UBS Media Conference: Complete Coverage
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt waded into the perennial
skirmishes between cable operators and programmers over carriage negotiations,
saying that both parties need to be more mindful of consumers when wrestling
over the rising cost of content.
Speaking Dec. 8 at the UBS Global Media and Communications
Conference, Britt noted that programmers and carriers have a "symbiotic
relationship" and lamented that "people in symbiotic relationships don't get
along very well.
He said Time
Warner Cable's "Get Tough or Rollover" campaign, in which the company
invited consumers to weigh in online on how it should deal with programmers'
cost increases, had received some 380,000 visits as of the previous evening and
that 95% came down on the "get tough" side.
Britt said that the campaign was meant to educate consumers
about where the cost increases were coming from. "The one good part of the
content business has been the cable networks," thanks to the
subscription-advertising dual-revenue model, he said, adding that "other
sectors are trying to compensate by raising the price of content."
He said the company has "heard from some of the content
companies" regarding the campaign. "They're wondering what exactly that's all
about," he said. "Let's leave it at that."
Britt noted that the response, particularly in comments that
showed consumers want to buy smaller packages of cable programming,
demonstrated the soundness of cable's subscription model and its packaging of
networks-factors that he believes underscore the demand for a TV Everywhere
"Consumers like to buy these products in subscription form
and they do like to buy packages," said Britt, adding that he envisioned a
world in which a subscription would offer consumers what he called "the four
â€˜anys'": access to any content on any device, anytime and anyplace.
In that world, he said, "our role is kind of the plumbers...to
do the plumbing and make it really easy for you as a consumer."
Speaking a day after Time Warner Cable reached an extension
of its retransmission consent agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Britt
touched on the issue of retrans negotiations in general comments about the
struggling broadcast model. Referring to NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker's
remarks at the confab the previous day, he said the relative strength of the
cable model left broadcast networks stuck in a business plagued by "all sorts
of anachronisms," including the exclusivity of network-affiliate relationships.
"I don't know where the broadcast networks are going to go,"
Britt said, noting that some 90% of viewers receive TV through a pay service.
"There's still some sense that there's something called â€˜free TV' out there;
well, it's not free for the majority."
Addressing the fourth-quarter outlook for Time Warner Cable
amid the protracted recession, Britt said there were "glimmers of light" in ad
revenue and broadband sales, "but we're not out of the woods yet."
Responding to the growing clamor for interactive
advertising, he assured the audience the company was working on it with the
Canoe Ventures consortium. "For people who want instant gratification, I know
it seems like it's taking a long time," he said. "But over the next year or so,
you're going to see some things happening in that space."
On the subject of broadband, Britt said, "if it's not
already, it's on its way to become the most important thing we sell to
people-increasingly more than television." That demand promised opportunity for
growth and "the ability to charge more over time." But it also promised
increasing traffic congestion and the need to confront it as an industry.
"Either we're going to put up with the congestion as a
society or we're going to allow some form of network management, which the FCC
is starting to tackle, or we're going to charge more for using more," said
Britt, adding that he favored some form of the latter.
He touched on the current debate over spectrum allocation
and praised the FCC for its focus on "getting all the facts and approaching
this in a thoughtful and balanced way."
Asked his thoughts on what the Comcast-NBC Universal deal
says about the value of content-distribution synergies, Britt said that such
synergies never delivered much value for Time Warner before it spun off its cable
"Brian Roberts doesn't seem to be talking about synergies,
just that it a good investment," he said. "Time will tell....but it's not being
done for all sorts of wonderful synergies."