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Disney vs Time Warner on Online TV Models

2009.05.02

Disney CEO Bob Iger and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes are at odds about the model for offering television shows online. Disney, which owns broadcaster ABC, plans to make TV shows available for free; Time Warner, which owns cable channels, supports a pay model.

Two of the entertainment industry's most powerful bosses are at odds about the model for offering free TV shows online in a debate that appears to center on the importance of owning broadcast networks.

On one side is Disney CEO Bob Iger, who last week said he plans to push full-steam ahead with efforts to make broadcast TV shows like "Desperate Housewives" available on the Web at no charge to customers, even if it ultimately means bypassing the television altogether.

On the other side is Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who while supporting the streaming of TV shows online, thinks the industry should pursue the endeavor within the current model of consumers paying for their cable TV, but with the ability to stream shows on their computer or mobile device at no charge.

At the heart of their tussle over strategy is whether one owns a broadcast network or not. Disney owns ABC, while Time Warner owns mainly cable networks.

Iger stunned attendees of a cable-industry conference last week when he declared, "You can't slow the pace of technology," which many took as a veiled threat to cable and satellite companies that Disney will find a way to be compensated for ABC even if it means blowing up the cable model.

Cable and satellite companies have long resisted paying broadcast networks for the right to carry their signals, which has long been a sticking point for companies that own broadcast networks, particularly since these distributors do pay to carry cable channels like ESPN and MTV.

Disney reps did not return calls for comment.

By contrast, Bewkes is focused on preserving the current economic model, noting, "You can't just blow up the financial structure."

Time Warner has launched an initiative called "TV Everywhere," in which the cable networks' content is available online for free provided users are authenticated as paying cable or satellite subscribers.

"The discussion right now is focused around broadcast, which is the least important part of the television business," Bewkes said in an interview with The Post. "The most important part is the branded-cable network business, and that's the economic model the broadcasters have to move towards."

Indeed, while Disney, NBC Universal and (Post parent) News Corp. all make their broadcast network content available for free online, they have either held back content from their cable channels or made it available for purchase as a download. For cable content, that makes sense, said Sanford Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson.

"If your model is already based on consumers paying for the right to access your content, it makes zero economic sense to give it away," Nathanson wrote in a report. "Why would content companies want to cannibalize their existing subscription-based revenue streams?"

But Nathanson sees problems with the broadcast side of the online video equation.

"The trade of live TV viewing for Web distribution is a bad trade for content companies," Nathanson wrote. Or, as Nathanson said of Hulu.com, the hugely popular online destination for NBC and Fox broadcast content, "It is such a great product that NBC and News Corp. should consider killing it ASAP."

http://www.nypost.com/seven/04092009/business/cast_aside_profit_163624.htm

 

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