Top executives from the television business said the industry's
challenge was moving faster as technology gives consumers more control.
"The biggest challenge is trying to lead and not hold back
the future," said Chase Carey, COO of News Corp., one of the panelists at the closing
general session Wednesday at the NCTA's cable show in Boston Wednesday.
While there's a tendency to try to protect entrenched
businesses, "you want to try to take advantage of new technology and create new
experiences," Carey said. "One of the challenges is to be fast enough."
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, the godfather of the industry's
TV Everywhere push to make content available when, where and on what devices paying
subscribers choose, said that going forward,
entertainment companies need to look at the interfaces consumers will
use to find content, but they don't need to design or control those devices.
"You have to know what you are, if you're an elephant and
not a lion," he said, suggesting that content companies should let Silicon
Valley designs the interfaces consumers want to use and harness those
interfaces. "Don't get hung up. You'll still have those consumer
Bewkes, who used to ridicule Netflix, added that "The
success of things like Netflix prove that people want things on demand."
"We're hearing clear messages about the importance of search
and access and personalization," said Pat Esser, president of Cox Communications.
"That's going to require fatter pipes and faster speeds."
Esser said the business is getting more complex and that
consumers have more choice, which gives them more control and more leverage.
Also on the panel was Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.
"We're at the first stages of the reinvention of television," Sarandos said.
He noted that a lot of Netflix viewing is being done on game
counsels by the generation the industry thought was made up of consumers that
would "steal content if it could." Instead, those young consumers are paying
for content, choice and convenience, he said.
Nevertheless, moderator Piers Morgan of CNN asked whether
Netflix was a friend or foe to the cable television industry.
"We're a little bit of both.
I don't think there's a black and white answer," said Sarandos. He said
that time spent viewing Netflix streams likely displaces viewing somewhere
else. But in other cases, Netflix is additive, he said, point out that "we
brought a million viewers to Mad Men,"
by giving people a chance who didn't watch in four years on AMC but now had an
opportunity to catch up on the show via Netflix.
"There's an artful way to pick the right shows, in the right
windows at the right rates, to make Netflix additive to cable," Sarandos said.
Cox's Esser labeled Netflix a "frenemy" to the cable
business. "My broadband platform is extremely valuable to me," he said. "About
40% of my broadband customers had a Netflix stream in March. It's a very important product to them. I have
to enable it if I want to live in this world of access."
While competition remains keen in the TV business, there are
some areas where cooperation helps at TV Everywhere rolls out.
"We all benefit by
creating an experience the consumer can understand and know what to expect,"
"In most cases...all boats rise when we're successful," said
Esser, adding that it is important for him to understand the economic models
that drive the programmers' businesses. As subscription become more important, he
still has to make sure all the eyeballs viewing are counted to maintain their
ad revenue stream.
"If you can count the eyeballs there will always be an advertising
business. I don't see that business going away," Esser said. But there might be
some dangerous moments where pressure increases on the transactional side of
the business, he said.
Bewkes seems to say that the subscription business made
ratings less important in the news business, where Time Warner's CNN had just
recorded its lowest primetime ratings in 20 years.
"Most of the economic success of CNN, Fox News, CNBC,
Bloomberg comes from subscriber success," Bewkes said. "The subscriber doesn't
want you to maximize the ratings all the time. They want depth of analysis."