Hulu owners Disney, Comcast and Fox as well as other programmers might talk tough about using online services to compete with cable and satellite, but they’ll stop short of becoming serious competitors, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei told investors today at the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit.
“Do you really think HBO is willing to give up on [cable and satellite] distribution?” Maffei he asked rhetorically. And at Hulu, a company like Fox “will talk the talk but walk the line very slowly.”
Same thing with Disney, which is still trying to calm Wall Street fears about the loss of subscribers at ESPN — the company’s cash cow.
“It’s a tough, tough row to hoe,” says Maffei. “ESPN’s still a great business but possibly not priced to perfection the way it was.”
The Liberty chief has a stake in the debate: His company, which is controlled by Chairman John Malone, is the largest shareholder in Charter — which became the No, 2 cable operator this morning with its acquisition of Time Warner Cable.
With that deal, Charter inherited TWC’s headaches in trying to persuade other distributors to offer SportsNet LA, the regional sports network that carries the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Only 30% of the market is getting the Dodgers,” Maffei says. While he didn’t offer reason to believe today’s transaction will change that, he adds that it’s “probably not a long term sustainable condition.”
The Liberty CEO noted that Charter began its pursuit of TWC almost exactly three years ago.
“When it started, we didn’t believe Comcast would be able to overbid, because they’d have regulatory issues” following its acquisition of NBCUniversal. “Then, when they did (overbid Charter) we became convinced that they’d get it done — until about a month before they couldn’t get it done. It’s amazing how we had a herd mentality one way, including us, and then we had a herd mentality the other way.”
The big surprise in the process? “Silicon Valley has a lot of influence at the FCC. They have a lot of weight.” And Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ golf games with President Obama in Martha’s Vineyard “didn’t help.”