Big Cable Sees Apple, Not Netflix, as Biggest Competitor

Time Warner, Comcast, News Corp. Say Interfaces Present the Industry's Biggest Opportunity, Challenge

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Forget Netflix. Cable's biggest competitors are technology companies such as Apple, according to a panel of TV business powers at the National Cable Telecommunications Association's Cable Show in Chicago on Tuesday.

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner , suggested to moderator Liz Claman of Fox Business News that the cable industry was getting beaten at its own game by technology companies in recent years. "All [the content] you can get on smartphones and tablets, it's because of this infrastructure led by the people in this room. We're now being copied and augmented by telephone and satellite companies."

To that end, cable's future is in interfaces. "We need to have the same control and feeling they have with internet devices for our content," Mr. Bewkes said later. "We need to figure out how to get the best-in-class interfaces adopted in a universal way for the benefit of consumers all across this country."

Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable Communications, said cord-cutting, or customers cutting their cable subscriptions, has also become less of a measurable challenge to cable's business model compared to the experiences offered by handheld devices.

"Let's never give our customer a reason to cord cut," he said. "Whether it's an iPad or TV screen or mobile, let's let them view it the way they want to view it. ... We're bringing more video functionality to the TV screen."

Earlier today, Comcast announced a new partnership with Skype that would enable customers to conduct video conferencing from their TV sets.

Chase Carey, chief operating officer of News Corp., said initiatives like TV Everywhere need to be available at scale and with relative ease for customers in order for cable to truly compete with other technologies.

"What's made Apple and [Steve] Jobs so successful is an exciting intuitive experience," he said. "We've talked about authentication for two years and we're still talking. We have to recognize others are doing things and we're held up. Our rights are our back line. That's what we do. We create content. We've got to work with distributors to create content in new and interesting ways. We have to work on agreements and how it's exploited and deployed, according to agreements we have in play. It can't just be the Wild West. You gotta have a structure in which you do business."

As for Netflix, which is readying its first venture into original programming in late 2012, Viacom CEO Phillippe Dauman doesn't see the movie-rental service as a direct competitor in programming just yet, noting that the number of major studios still in business today is roughly the same as it was 75 years ago. "It's not that easy to get into the content business," he said. "We're 100% focused on content at our company and continue to increase the stakes in our investment in programming throughout the year, in the recession, through good times and bad times, in order to serve the consumers."

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