Whether it was Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) CEO Glenn Britt declaring TV is dead, long live the video screen or Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) CEO Jeff Bewkes urging everyone to “put it all on the internet,” the over-arcing message as The Cable Show opened in Chicago today is the same: to stay relevant, programmers and operators have to remember it’s not just about the big screen anymore. That doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page.
Take the small matter of making money. While TV Everywhere evangelist Bewkes declared, “Put the TV on all the internet devices, don’t change the business model and don’t charge people to do it,” fellow programmers Viacom (NYSE: VIA) CEO Philippe Dauman and News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) COO Chase Carey sounded notes of caution.
“We need to remember we serve the consumers and provide them what they want,” Dauman said, quickly adding, “at the right time in the right ways when the business model has been met.” Carey admitted “you have to embrace it” but stressed that whatever “it” is doesn’t come free. Consumers are willing to pay “fair value” for quality content, and while I don’t think he came straight out and said it, the implication was distributors should be willing to the same.
The programmers aren’t alone in business model concerns. Talking about the multi-billion-dollar investment cable has made in the infrastructure needed to expand beyond standard cable, Cox CEO Pat Esser also talked about the need to find the right business models.
But Britt raised the concern that fretting about business models in every case can stand in the way of innovation. Time Warner Cable went for forgiveness instead of permission earlier this year when it debuted an in-home service that streamed dozens of cable channels live on the iPad. Some of the programmers who pushed back quickly were sitting on the stage with him when he said, “We do have to experiment. Sometimes business gets in the way of that.”
Carey’s reply — not directly to that but when asked about the situation by moderator Liz Claman of Fox Business News — was measured. “There’s a long history here; you’re always going to have a buyer-seller tension. … At the end of the day I do believe we can resolve those issues of commerce and get to what is fair value.”
What about cord cutting? Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) Cable’s Neil Smit said the country’s largest cable operator isn’t seeing any evidence of cord cutting. For Britt, it’s a “barely measurable” warning sign that cable operators have to avoid giving people reasons to leave: “If something makes consumers not want to buy, that’s a threat to all of us.” He spoke of the need to create less-expensive packages to keep or encourage customers facing difficult economic choices.
We need to embrace all of the screens, Britt said. “There’s no such thing as a TV anymore.”