Freelance writer Cari Lynn is a Deadline contributor based in Los Angeles.
“Television is an undervalued medium,” Marc Cuban declared today at the PGA’s Produced By Conference. It’s a different stance than earlier this decade when he launched HDNet to provide then-state-of-the-art high definition programming. Now, with the upcoming soft launch of AXS TV, a partnership among Cuban, Ryan Seacrest, AEG and CAA (which originated as a rebranding of HDNet/HDNet Canada), Cuban is far more optimistic about the boob tube than he is about online content. “Bits are bits,” he said. “Everything is digital…the Internet has no inherent value over TV. None, zippo. People forget that satellite, DirectTV, Dish, they’re all digital, they can do everything the Internet can do.” But Cuban did acknowledge that the next step for television is the network DVR, which he says “is going to happen.” He said he believed Dish Network’s much-contested Hopper DVR challenges traditional TV providers to take advantage of digital opportunities. “Dish is trying to get ahead of curve on user experience. If Dish reduces the risk to pay a premium for no commercials, why not?”
Still, Cuban’s overall theme was that the more things change the more they stay the same. “You have to remember why people watch TV. Aaron Spelling described it as the best alternative to boredom.” Cuban shrugged off many new concepts such as voice recognition, UltraViolet, even YouTube. “If you have to hit an Internet button, or work to get television, or look to find your content, you’ve got challenges. Basically, if you have to take your hand out of your pants, it doesn’t work.” He then turned to the numbers. “Comparing [online] views to TV ratings is apples to oranges. Go to the most-viewed English-language video for YouTube and maybe there’s one that gets 700,000 views a day; compare that to a rerun of Shark Tank with 4.2 million viewers … I’ll take the smallest TV network.”
Cuban did concede that an “always on” strategy would change the game. “If Apple comes out with ‘always on,’ they win it. Samsung could beat them to it, or even LG.” He (of course) touted one of his own investments, Flingo, which offers apps for smart TVs, as the first company to look at TVs as a platform no different than a phone.
Cuban also displayed his typically blunt opinion of another new technology — the studios’ UltraViolet, which handles cloud-based licensing and digital rights authentication got his overall thumbs-down — “Great concept, but it won’t work because it’s too much hassle. I don’t like the implementation. They’re trying to solve one hassle but created more. When big studios realize how simple it all should be, they can out-Netflix Netflix.”
Cuban praised Netflix for creating what he called a new syndication model, a company that “pays up front, when everyone else is consignment.” In the past, he said, syndicated content was all risk money. “Then Netflix comes in and reduces the risk by paying upfront. By signing deals with Netlfix that create a definitive amount of cash, whether it does well or not, the economics changed dramatically. This makes TV much more stable, and there will be a ripple effect for online content.” He acknowledged that this was causing pushback from cable networks. “They don’t want to pay for repeats, so it’s resulting in more original programming on cable. This is all relatively new territory, there’s going to be a battle and uncertainty there, but it will get worked out.”
As for the future of TV, Cuban thinks live content is where it’s at. “It’s the reason why we’re transitioning from HDNet to AXS TV. “Kids are event-driven, going to groups, using social media to link up to these groups. If you create unique live events that bring people in and make you want to be part of it, and it requires people to be in one place at one time, that differentiates you. It’s live, live, live.”