Don’t tell the Time Warner CEO that cable and satellite subscribers are fed up with rising prices, and tempted to replace them with some combination of free TV and Web services such as Netflix. Pay TV is “getting to be a better deal for consumers and a better deal in the opinion of consumers,” Jeff Bewkes told investors at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom conference. “Even in this recession, you don’t have cord cutting.” What’s more, TV viewing is up at a time when “you have increases in the quality and programming budgets of all these networks.” When companies including Time Warner Cable and Dish Network offer low priced packages with relatively few channels “nobody buys them.” And TV Everywhere will make consumers more attached to pay TV. “It’s all going on demand, on every Internet device you have for free because you have a subscription.” What if he’s wrong, and consumers want something cheaper? Time Warner will still be fine, Bewkes says. “We all know that the reason [prices are] up is the sports fee, it’s not anything else. Half of citizens don’t want that.” But 90% of his company’s affiliate fees come from four networks including TNT and TBS that are built around entertainment. If consumers want bundles without sports then “we’ll be in their bundles.” And low priced offerings would lower the threshold for subscribers to also subscribe to HBO. “That would be great for HBO,” Bewkes says.
He’s also not concerned that Web streaming services will pose a serious threat — even though he says that Netflix’ political drama House Of Cards is “pretty good.” The Internet company and others including Amazon and Hulu “can’t afford to buy all of the live programming” or popular, non-serialized syndicated shows such as sitcoms that drive TV ratings. “You know the numbers. They can’t go that far.” If the newcomers do become more powerful, Time Warner could adapt — even if it meant giving up the $350M it collected last year from subscription VOD. “These contracts are short term, so they can be recalibrated,” he says. Could he envision a day when Time Warner networks go online? “It would have to be economically accretive to us,” he says. “And so far, nobody’s done it.”