The government may have to insist on conditions before approving deals such as Comcast’s planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s with DirecTV the Time Warner CEO told investors today the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference. He’s not concerned about the next few years. “In some ways it could help because they’ll be more effective distributors.” But Jeff Bewkes wants assurance that the mergers won’t close doors for consumers who want his company’s content. “It’s a question of what happens to innovation and technical advances,” he says. “Is it used to stifle competing products” such as set top boxes or user interfaces? It’s important that electronic distributors “offer a robust market that is not cut off to multiple sources for consumers to get at the programming.”
Time Warner has to be concerned about reaching consumers: With the immanent spin off of Time Inc., the company will derive the vast majority of its revenues from TV. It’s also investing heavily in original productions. Bewkes says the Turner networks have budgeted $4B and HBO has $2B. “We have a very vibrant pipeline” with four of the five top shows in HBO’s history currently on its schedule — “and there are more coming this year.”
There’ll be some changes at TNT as it focuses more on serialized dramas. “Our audiences were big and broad but a bit older than where we want to go.” With VOD giving viewers opportunities to catch up on episodes that they’ve missed, the shows “can be very exciting…. As we turn all television channels into full on-demand, you can invigorate the way HBO has.”
Meanwhile Bewkes says he remains unfazed by the possibility that his spending for programming, and Time Warner’s rising fees for pay TV distributors, will lead to cord cutting. “We’re alert, not worried.” Nor does he fear that pay TV will lose its appeal to young people. “Once they take the mattress and get it off the floor, that’s when they subscribe to TV.” With advancements in VOD, TV Everywhere, and high definition transmissions “the value is going up, not down.”
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