The web may be packed with free content, but don’t look for cable programmers such as Time Warner, Disney or MTVN to follow suit any time soon. During a panel discussion at this year’s Cable Show, the networks rejected the notion that they will have to give away their content in order to remain competitive.
Broadcasting & Cable quotes George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, as saying that just because the Internet has lots of free, user-generated content, “I wouldn’t be too quick to give away [professionally-produced content] for free.” He added that, “I think we deliver value and I think we need to keep that dual stream going.”
BET Networks President and CEO Debra Lee said that when her network does give away free content, it’s designed to drive people back to TV. “Our goal is to get paid everywhere,” Lee told the audience.
In the end, the decision to become free may not even be up to the programmers. Change is happening so rapidly that any sort of debate around the topic could become moot, with the network decision-making process being outpaced by viewer behavior. And viewers are getting awfully used to free.
While total viewer ratings for oldteevee networks are off by 10 percent (and higher among certain demographics), ABC.com (which is free) has seen its unique visitor audience grow to 5.9 million in April from 3.5 million in December. Hulu (also free), meanwhile, served up 63.2 million streams to 2.4 million uniques in April.