Cable Chiefs Still Unsure Whether YouTube Is Friend or Foe


In the aftermath of Viacom’s $1 billion dollar lawsuit against Google’s YouTube , a panel of cable chiefs on Thursday said they remain uncertain about dealing with the online giant.

“I admit I truly have no clue,” said Ted Harbert, president and CEO of the Comcast Entertainment Group, speaking at a luncheon put on by the Hollywood Radio and Television Society in Los Angeles.

“I want to get paid, but getting the content out there is fabulous. What would you rather have? [The big audience] or the legal department sending out eight billion cease and desist letters? I don’t know.”

Other panelists, including Abbe Raven, president and CEO of A&E TV Networks, agreed that taking a hard line stance against YouTube right now is a tough decision and that some experimentation in the constantly-evolving online world is necessary.

“We have to play a little loose here,” she said.

And while You Tube has the industry’s focus because of its recent acquisition by Google, its reach and now with the Viacom lawsuit, Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matt Blank says the business cycle is still in its nascent stages.

“There is a certain inevitability that You Tube is just scratching the surface,” he says.

Doug Herzog, president of Viacom’s MTV Entertainment Group, said that whatever shakes out with You Tube, content owners and distributors have to stay fleet of foot more now than ever.

“The genie is now out of the bottle in terms of the audience being in control,” he said.

As muddied as the waters are right now, USA Network and SCI FI Channel president Bonnie Hammer acknowledges the days of just looking at television programs and CPMs in a vacuum are over.

But she warns that talks about digital strategy have to be more than just buzz words, as she thinks the term “digital” is in danger of becoming as meaningless as the term “synergy” was in recent years as media companies conglomerated.

She says there have to be wide-ranging conversation with advertisers that include everyone from ad sales to creatives.

“In some ways it is like going back to the beginnings of cable,” she says.