Outside of Comcast and Verizon, cable and satellite companies “haven’t moved fast enough or effectively enough” to offer video on demand to their subscribers, the Time Warner CEO told the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. Distributors have the rights to offer shows on VOD, and audiences want it. “If you think about the success of things like Netflix, the interest YouTube – it’s mostly because you can get your stuff on demand.” It’s “a gigantic opportunity” for pay TV. But “there’s very spotty performance among distributors on how these tremendous VOD rights are conveyed to you.” if distributors don’t move more quickly then the demand “is going to be filled by somebody else” — probably a tech company. That would be “a missed opportunity….It’s not going to serve consumers as well and won’t serve the broadband plant” or programming diversity. He seemed uncertain, though, that someone will soon offer an online pay TV service that would compete directly with cable and satellite — which became a big issue here yesterday when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said he believes an over-the-top competitor will launch in 2014. “We’re all open to it,” Bewkes says. “The question for consumers and rights providers is: What service do they provide?” He also wonders whether the Internet infrastructure can handle the additional bandwidth demands for video. “That’s an open question.”
As you’d expect, Bewkes is optimistic about Time Warner’s prospects –although he warned that ad sales in Q4 might be softer than expected, due in part to ratings weakness. Cartoon Network has been a concern due to “tiredness in the shows,” although the CEO says it’s “a short term phenomenon, not a trend phenomenon.” For the most part the cable networks are “on track” to deliver higher earnings and profit margins this year. He also talked up CNN’s effort to goose its non-breaking news programming. “You may see an expansion of the news definition in prime time,” he says. Once Time Inc is spun off — which he says is on track to happen in Q2 — then cable network carriage fees from cable and satellite will account for about a third of Time Warner’s revenues.