A rare mingling of subject and audience took place at a Manhattan movie theater today as Time Warner Chairman-CEO Jeff Bewkes struggled to answer an audience member's question if his company looks at the porn industry for any clues to the future of digital media.
"I don't think I've ever thought about that, actually," Mr. Bewkes said to the crowd at Tribeca Film Festival event sponsored by Bloomberg. "I'll have to investigate it."
Tongue-in-cheek, certainly, but on to more important matters, interviewer Charlie Rose asked Mr. Bewkes how he felt about Netflix, the movie-rental and -streaming service that has amassed more than 22.8 million subscribers in under five years.
"With fondness," he said. "I have a fondness for subscription television, and Netflix is subscription television, so 'Welcome, brother,' is what I have to say to them."
That statement was in stark contrast to what he said last December, when he likened the rental company to the armed forces of a small country. "It's a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world?" Mr. Bewkes told the New York Times. "I don't think so."
But he left that sentiment out of today's talk, recounting that as the former head of HBO, he came up through the "shadows of network television," much the way that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his executives are doing today. "They've done a very successful thing," he said. "I love those guys."
The stakes for media have heightened in the age of YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and Facebook, which are potentially more important given that Mr. Bewkes sees the cable and satellite TV industry consolidating soon. "There will be three to five companies in 10 years," he predicted.
Mr. Bewkes has been at the forefront of digital strategy with the initiative TV Everywhere, which has extended to all of his company's content products. Warner Bros. Entertainment, along with every other major movie studio, has started to cut deals with digital distributors to stream films to homes within eight weeks of theatrical debut. Normally, Mr. Bewkes said, films only have about a three-week "shelf life" in theaters, then sit unavailable for four months before they come out on DVD.
"That's when piracy comes in," he said. The executive also wasn't bullish on DVDs' future, suggesting that people will not be renting that medium in five years.
Though Time Warner has streaming deals with Netflix, it is a limited slate of programming, and it recently experimented with streaming content on Facebook when it offered the "Dark Knight" on the social service last month.
When asked if Time Warner plans on doing more streaming on Facebook, Mr. Bewkes said, "Yeah," and added, "we're just trying to be on any platform that allows us to sell our movies and content."
Time Warner will report its first quarter earnings Thursday.