Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes likes to be on the cutting edge in technology, and especially ad services. But he remains old-fashioned when it comes to programming, he said today at the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference.
In contrast to Netflix and other digital services that pick shows based on audience data, at HBO “we’re programming the show,” he says.
He acknowledges that there are “some democratic aspects” to using audience data. “Are the consumers by their habits programming the show itself, or are you programming?”
In putting himself in the latter camp, he says “if you don’t like it, we’re sorry. But that’s how we get big breakthroughs. If you ask creators what they want, most of them go with that.”
Still, Bewkes likes data — for example when it seems to belie the view that the company charged too much when it offered its HBO Go streaming service for $15 a month.
“You can always sell more Mercedes at $30,000 than at $60,000 or $90,000,” he says. “The question is: Was it a good trade?…Because of the accelerating growth at HBO in subscription, we think it’s working quite well and we are adding programming hours to it.”
Bewkes credits Netflix for helping to drive all digital streaming businesses globally.
“You end up having more demand for hit shows, and hit networks, and crowding out of less successful networks and shows,” he says.
For the most part, Bewkes focused on how much work TV programmers need to do to adapt to changing technologies and audience viewing habits — and how quickly he expects his company to advance following its sale to AT&T.
“The good news is, we’re leading and ahead of most of the basic networks we compete with,” he says. “The bad news is, we’re ahead of the basic networks we compete with — because it has to be somewhat universal both in terms of what a consumer expects to find when she or he is changing dials. They’re not taking grad school courses on — TNT everything is VOD, and USA may not be. That’s not how this works.”
The industry also needs to offer a united front to advertisers, he adds.
“That’s the issue on VOD. It’s the issue on advanced advertising, on distribution packages. …Until it gets more universal, the consumer habit doesn’t light the match and let it go. We believe we’re now there. That’s part of the reason we joined up with AT&T.”
He says he’s also encouraged by the results from efforts to cut the number of ads on networks including TruTV.
“It’s clear that it’s got to go in that direction,” he says. “If you stay with loads and watching during breaks went down, and advertising went to digital because they couldn’t get the targeting, that would not work.”
More broadly, Bewkes says Time Warner’s ad sales will be either flat or up by a low single digit percentage this quarter.