Fox is not going to be taking the telecommunications giant to court like ESPN has over its slimmed down Custom TV bundles – at least not any time soon. “I’m not going to talk about ESPN’s lawsuit,” said Peter Rice today at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference. “I think we’ll work with Verizon, we’ll look at what they’re doing, we’ll see how it evolves,” the Fox Networks Group boss told conference attendees Wednesday. “We’ve been trying to offer our distributors some flexibility. On the margins we think some of the skinny bundles don’t necessarily offer a good value he noted “I think consumers will ask do I want to pay $75 for 20 channels (under a smaller bundle plan) or do I want to pay $80 for a 100 channels?”
“For the past 5-years we’ve really been trying to focus on five brands, Fox, Fox Sports, National Geographic, FX and Fox News,” Rice added. “We think each one of those brands has really compelling content and will be in all the different bundles.” This wait and see could become the media boss mantra. Earlier today, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes skirted around taking sides with the Disney-owned sports giant and the issue of Verizon’s Custom TV.
Rice was joined onstage at the Beverly Hilton today by CBS boss Les Moonves, Sony Entertainment chief Michael Lynton and The Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson. Their wide-ranging discussion on trends in Global entertainment looked at changing demographics, delivery systems and what translates around the world. Inevitably, the panel even briefly touched on the massive hacking of Sony last winter and the stunted release of the controversial The Interview – which Lynton compared to the Titanic, the sinking boat not the blockbuster James Cameron movie that is.
“It was unique,” Lynton added of the online and VOD release of the Seth Rogan and James France comedy about killing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the free speech and release model issues it raised. “I don’t think there is a great deal to be learned from that,” he said in relation to the greater same day release discussion. “I think the theatrical experience is very important and vital to the movie industry and I’m not sure that that simultaneous experiment across the platforms is something to be repeated.”
A hit online, the finally widely released film was seen as the instigating motivation of the devastating breach of Sony’s digital systems last November.
“What we experienced at Sony I think is not a lesson,” Lynton added. Without directly talking about the huge leaks of personal correspondence that came out of the devastating hack, Lynton mentioned to nervous laughter in the room “there are other lessons having to do with email and other things but not having to do with simultaneous release.”
With the vast success of the trio of Hunger Games films, changing demographics and changing attitudes were on point today at the Milken Conference for Jacobson. “I always thought that the targeting of the young man is BS,” she said to big laughs in the majority male room. “Between video games, sports and porn, it’s hard to get a young man’s attention,” she said of the industry’s focus on teen and young adult males as its box office backbone. “Certainly when I was at Disney we knew that women were our bread and butter.” The Color Force principal and former president of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group added, “it’s been a long period of collective stupidity.”
“I do think it is starting to change,” Jacobson said of Hollywood realizing the multiple interests and spending power of women. “Women can drive an enormous amount of business.” Lynton chimed in, “we ignored a big audience for a very long time. Or some of us did, Nina didn’t but some of us did.”
Back to the theme of cable unbundling, Moonves was definitive that the age of greater consumer cable choice is “the way of the future.” Noting viewers bank accounts he said, as he has before, “they don’t want to pay these huge cable bills for channels they don’t watch.”
Of course, the CBS Corp chief being the showman he is Moonves then added that “the 150 channel universe is changing, you’re going to be able to get different bundles and we’re going to in all of them.” Noting that 40% of CBS’ earning didn’t exist just 5-years ago with the changes in technology, platforms and new markets, Moonves said as he has before, that Showtime was looking at rolling out a product similar to the recently launched HBO Now.
When asked about how well the recently launched CBS All Access was doing, the repeat Milken participant said he was surprised that 80% of the subscribers to CBS All Access are doing it for catching up on shows. When pressed on specifics about All Access doing better than expected, the CBS boss said he wasn’t going to reveal numbers. “I’m going to be like Netflix,” he joked, mocking the numbers secretive streaming service. “Declare everything a hit and no one can question you.“
“It really is the Golden Age of TV,” Moonves did add citing series like Showtime’s Homeland, HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s Mad Men. “There is more great product now than has ever existed before,” he said hitting an old theme. “When you look at what the premiere cable stations are doing, and I’m biased of course, I think the quality of work on TV is better than the majority of work in feature films.”
The 2015 Milken Institute Global Conference wraps up today