Nearly every broadcast and cable network will start to be available video-on-deamnd for free this year, Time Warner President/COO Jeff Bewkes told a crowd of nearly 2,700 of the cable faithful at the annual CTAM (Cable Telecommunications Association for Marketing) summit in WashingtonDC.
“People would rather have free networks whenever they want,” he said, predicting the model of free, ad-supported networks on demand would trump a pay-per-show model.
Quizzed by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien on who would pay for the service, Bewkes said that viewers are accustomed to advertising. “Why wouldn’t you preserve that audience?” he said. “Why wouldn’t you watch it the same way?”
Bewkes emphasized that the technology to allow such widespread on demand offerings is already here. “And if you wonder is this a bunch of BS, it’s there. HBO is that now. If you have HBO On Demand, you’re used to it. You don’t have to DVR HBO so we should take the whole industry and put it on that basis.”
Bewkes predicted that within this year, that vision could become a reality and said the biggest stumbling block lay in show producers agreeing on rights to distribute shows on VOD.
“The issue at the end is essentially not technology, but just getting the rights,” he said noting that Time Warner’s Warner Bros. studio started making the rights to their series, such as TNT’s The Closer, available to the networks and in turn to the operators last year.
Moreover, many TV executive are reluctant to go on-demand because of the “embarrassment factor” if the move doesn’t prove profitable.
‘If you go to Hollywood,” he said, “you’ve got all these people that are sitting in restaurants and they’re wondering if I do this, do I look dumb to the guy from the other network or the talent agency that’s sitting at this next table if I do it first.”
Bewkes also argued that cable operators should let advertisers access their rich databases of customer demographics, so the advertisers can best target ads to particular consumers. But first, operators must come together and agree on similar metrics to make such a service meaningful.
“In terms of doing relevant, contextual…advertising that can be more powerful in terms of the data than anything that’s been done on any Internet platform including Google and it can go on the big screen so that’s a huge future for the cable industry and the only thing it needs is essentially common sharing of the data on an apples to apples structure.”
The CTAM trade show’s theme this year is “Power to the People,” and Bewkes spoke to the importance of branching television brands onto other distribution platforms, citing, for example, HBO’s previewing its new series Flight of the Conchords online.
But, he made clear that television is still a dominant force, pointing out that U.S. consumers bought more televisions than ever last year and that more than half of those were 50 inch screens.
“We’ll talk a lot about the Internet experience today and that’s important, but also the television is not leaving your house,” he said.