For years, Time Warner (s TWX) Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes has criticized Netflix (s NFLX) and those that do business with the video subscription firm, but his stance might be softening. In an interview with Charlie Rose at the Tribeca Film Festival Wednesday, Bewkes not only “expressed fondness” for their growing subscription TV business, he said that he “loved” what Netflix was doing.
According to Ad Age, Bewkes expressed admiration for the work that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has done in navigating difficult waters and building a business based on licensing studio and TV content.
“They’ve done a very successful thing,” Bewkes said. “I love those guys.”
That comment comes as a bit of a surprise, in part because up until now, Bewkes has been one of Netflix’s most outspoken critics. In past years, Bewkes has called the amount of money that Netflix and other web video aggregators pay for content “measly,” and said traditional media companies are better off staying away from those deals. More recently, Bewkes compared Netflix to the Albanian Army, saying that it posed no real threat to traditional media companies.
So what’s changed? It could be that Bewkes has finally caught on that Netflix is a viable alternative distributor, now that it has more subscribers than any other video subscription service in North America. Based on his comments Wednesday, it certainly appears Bewkes has come around to the idea that Netflix represents a new model for subscription TV.
“I have a fondness for subscription television, and Netflix is subscription television, so ‘Welcome, brother,’ is what I have to say to them,” Bewkes told the audience, according to Ad Age.
Netflix also might have won some respect for its bold step into original programming by licensing the rights to the upcoming Kevin Spacey-David Fincher project House of Cards. While the first of those episodes won’t actually appear until late 2012, Netflix says that it could do a few more licensing deals in the meantime. According to The Hollywood Reporter, that reminded Bewkes of Time Warner’s own HBO business.
“We think it’s great that they are doing that,” Bewkes said about Netflix’s first original programming bid. “If they move toward original programming, then they will be like HBO.”
While Bewkes might be softening his stance on Netflix, it still seems unlikely that Time Warner cable network HBO would begin licensing its content to the subscription streaming company. The network has invested heavily in its TV Everywhere initiative, and will soon be launching iPad (s aapl) and Android (s goog) apps that could be seen as competitive to Netflix streaming on connected devices.
Meanwhile, Netflix hopes to show cable networks that, in addition to providing incremental money in the form of licensing revenues, it can also help boost live audiences. In a letter to investors, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings argued that by making their content available on the streaming service, programmers capture new viewers who can learn about new series or catch up on previous seasons of a show.