TV Everywhere;Money: Sort of

Cable Show features much talk about innovation, less on monetization

Why This Matters

Roberts Takes Center Stage

Literally speaking, Comcast’s Brian Roberts was on stage multiple times at The Cable Show. But that was much more the case figuratively speaking, as he and the Comcast-NBC Universal merger were the talk of the event. From the two booths next to each other on the show floor to NBCU’s swanky soiree on May 12, the spotlight was on the new corporate cousins.

Roberts himself stood out from the pack, according to many industry executives, and was engaging and forthcoming when interviewed on stage by Peter Chernin at a brunch on May 11.

After showing his hard-core cable roots by opening with a sales pitch for VOD, Roberts even coined a new phrase when asked about the NBCU acquisition.

“We are not going to try to ‘Comcastize’ NBC Universal,” he said. “We don’t have a ‘Comcast way,’ so to speak.”

And he had a quick response when asked what happens when some of his new organization’s tentacles get tangled with each other. “That’s what we invented [COO] Steve Burke for,” he said to laughs.— Ben Grossman and Marisa Guthrie

WE GET IT. Pretty soon we are going to be able to watch whatever we want, whenever we want. Now if someone would please finally show us a business model.

Attendees at The Cable Show in Los Angeles last week must have felt a sinking sense of déjà vu, as one discussion with industry bigwigs including Comcast’s Brian Roberts, CBS Corp.’s Leslie Moonves and Time Warner’s Jeffrey Bewkes largely rehashed the same concerns over financial viability that plagued content creators and distributors at this time last year.

Moderated by a rather talkative former FCC chairman Michael Powell, who has segued from the federal payroll to Providence Equity Partners, the panel pondered the brave notso- new world of alternative screens and whether the proliferation of screens and technology presents a “great threat” or a “great opportunity,” in Powell’s words.

To his credit, Roberts said it was neither.

“It’s reality,” he said. “So you’ve got to turn it into an opportunity. In my opinion, video wants to be on any device, anytime.” The key, Roberts added, is creating a business model that consumers want to use and that allows all content providers and distributors to get paid.

But Tom Rothman, chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment (the studio behind blockbuster Avatar), sounded a contrary note, making a case for windowing. “I actually don’t believe that it’s ultimately good for content creators and distributors for everything to be everywhere all at once,” he said. But Rothman added that effective windowing will continue to be challenged by the plethora of distribution platforms.

Bewkes pointed out, as so many have before him, that video content providers have learned plenty from the music industry. But the issue is not to adapt to the mobile marketplace or die, he said; it’s how you protect content and distribution so you don’t kill your business.

“We all know that it’s possible to take every show and every channel and put them on every screen in your home and every screen in your pocket,” Bewkes said. “And it’s a huge advance.”

But Bewkes cautioned that content indiscriminately disseminated will only erode the bottom line, and he put out a “call to action” to his colleagues and competitors in the industry: “Get your VOD robust, get your interfaces stronger and better, and bring them to your television systems, and then take the whole thing and put it on broadband.”

And Moonves summed up the debate, getting the last—and most pointed—word on the day. “Whenever they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money,” he said. “It’s what keeps you up at night.”

And in the same vein, though at a separate discussion, William Morris Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel suggested that fewer eyeballs in general doesn’t matter if the ad dollars keep flowing in. And he did so only as Ari Emanuel can. “Who gives a shit about the ratings?” he said.

E-mail comments to mguthrie@ nbmedia.com, and follow her on Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie