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@ Discovery Upfront: CEO Zaslav: Free Doesn’t Work

imageFollowing the Discovery Communications (NSDQ: DISCA) upfront at the *Time Warner* Center in New York, I talked with CEO David Zaslav (pictured on the right, with president of ad sales Joe Abruzzese) about online video. Over at The Cable Show in Washington, D.C., this week, where Zaslav is speaking Friday morning, the hot debate is about how to put programming online. Zaslav is already on the record dismissing the notion of free long-form content from Discovery (NSDQ: DISAB). But how does he feel about the pitch from Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes (see our Staci D. Kramer’s interview with the Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) CEO here and here) for “TV Everywhere,” which seeks to offer video subscribers access to the same content across platforms? Then there’s Disney (NYSE: DIS) CEO Bob Iger, who is open to the video-subscriber idea when it comes to cable programming and also just approved a short-form deal with YouTube for clips from ABC, ESPN and others, but isn’t interested in creating new restrictions around ABC’s full episodes.

On the fence: For the most part, Discovery has emphasized short-term video distribution for online. Since it sounds like others are still trying to discern the best way to go, Zaslav doesn’t feel he needs to step into the breach and offer a solution, opting for now to wait and see. Zaslav: “[Bewkes and Iger] are just recognizing the fact that we all have to get practical. People are consuming content on the web. We have to figure out what kind of content people really want: long-form or short-form And then, once we’ve established that, we have to figure out the best way to distribute that content.” More after the jump.

Free doesn’t work: “We know we’re not going to stop the world from changing, but we have to figure out the right business model that works for the networks, the cable operators and the new media distributors. We’ve been very prudent about not putting our long-form content on the web. We don’t want to lose marketshare, but at the same time, we don’t want to encourage free content. Free didn’t work for newspapers. Free didn’t work for the magazines. And it doesn’t work for the broadcast companies. We have to see how it develops. But ultimately, we all have to follow the behavior of the consumer.”