Time Warner's President Pushes Video on Demand

At NCTA: Make Hit TV Shows Available Soon After They Air

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Time Warner President Jeff Bewkes, whose company is in early negotiations with TV networks and studios to offer current hit programming on video on demand, yesterday implored cable networks to get on board with video on demand.
Jeff Bewkes said, 'I have a dream' about free VOD from the major networks.
Jeff Bewkes said, 'I have a dream' about free VOD from the major networks. Credit: AP

"Maybe I have a dream," he said, "but I think the cable industry should put free VOD for all networks into place in the next year. … Take the most successful model in ad-supported entertainment -- the ad-supported TV networks -- and make them not just linear but on demand and find a way to keep the commercials so you can't fast forward. It would preserve vitality of production community and create natural extensions on Web and mobile of exactly the sort you're hearing here. I would like us all to think about that."

Hit TV shows
Time Warner has been talking to studios about a venture that could make hit TV shows available on demand shortly after they air on the linear broadcast networks. The service would likely be offered for some sort of subscription fee, though it could also include an ad model. Currently, Time Warner's StartOver program, a restricted form of VOD, allows viewers to tune into the beginning of hit programs on 61 networks within the hour it airs. Ads remain in the programs and viewers can't fast forward.

Mr. Bewkes was speaking on an all-star panel of media execs at the closing session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's National Show, the annual cable industry gathering. This year, in Atlanta, the event drew 15,500 attendees, slightly down from the previous year. The other panelists, which included Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke, MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath and Martha Stewart Omnimedia CEO Susan Lyne, all laid out how they see emerging media affecting their businesses.

Mr. Burke touted VOD as a great business model for launching new channels, including the first to come out of Comcast's investment in Sony -- a 24/7 VOD channel dedicated to horror films. He called it a product that both consumers and cable operators will want.

VOD horror
"Our horror channel will have lots of horror movies for VOD and streaming, but no linear channel," he said. "We'll charge [operators] a reasonable fee so it'll get lots of distribution. … If you look at growth of advertising on streaming and the growth of VOD it becomes a viable business model."

Ms. McGrath was frank about how emerging technologies are changing her business. "We're deeply paranoid every day," she said. However, she did note that she believes MTV is pretty well positioned to take advantage of the changing media landscape.

"We're pretty much a pure-content-play company and it's really a creative problem and creative opportunity," she said. "It's a matter of thinking about the platform and how people are going to use it. Might be Comedy Central's joke of the day on mobile or Jon Stewart every night or the game of the week on nick.com. It's a brand-building environment that's good for all the broadband stuff Steve [Burke, of Comcast] is looking for and a compelling environment for advertisers. It's taking time to figure it out and it's not going home early."

As an example of upending business models, Ms. McGrath recalled the success around NBC's "Saturday Night Live" online spoof "Chronicles of Narnia," which was produced by and starred one of the show's newest cast members.

User-generated content
"The next day he had a movie deal," she said. "He leapfrogged over -- 'Oh we have to make a pilot, do a TV deal.'" She said user-generated content and feedback will influence the next generation of programming -- it will be "programs meet bottom-up so you're both leading and following a little bit."

Ms. Lyne was also optimistic about her company's ability to adapt to new technologies: "We have particularly adaptable content, mostly how-to content in lots of areas from cooking to entertaining, home decorating, holidays, crafts. It's very sliceable and diceable." She was not at all worried about it cannibalizing on her company's core magazine products because, she said, "people read the magazine because it's literally a visceral experience. You're never going to get the same quality on a cellphone. But you're going to get something else from the cellphone experience."
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