TV moguls once looked askance at new media, warily eyeballing digital like an unwanted vampire that snuck into the party with the catering. As much as the networks still aren’t sold on the core business proposition of anytime/anywhere distribution, there are signs they’re becoming more tolerant of third-party players.
Speaking on Wednesday morning’s opening session at The Cable Show in Los Angeles, CBS Corp president and CEO Les Moonves said there is “a mutual respect” between tech and content, adding that the broadcaster is willing to experiment with non-traditional distribution platforms “if the economic model fits what we do.”
That said, as long as CBS merely scrapes up a few online coins versus the big bucks of its linear CPMs, digital won’t supplant the television model any time soon.
“The problem is, I’m only getting pennies online,” Moonves said. “If too many people shift to online, I’m not going to be able to produce CSI.” The CBS chief noted that each episode of the procedural costs $3 million to produce. “That’s why we’re not on Hulu. And until the model works, we won’t be.”
Tom Rothman, chairman and co-CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said content must be made available anywhere consumers want to see it, although he added that some platforms are more appropriate than others. While Avatar wasn’t designed to be viewed on a smart phone, content like Fox’ animated series Family Guy is “hilarious” on a handheld device, Rothman said.
“Making stories hasn’t changed fundamentally,” Rothman said. “Content creators need to get paid and properly windowed. But experience has changed. We still believe in experience.”
Naturally, the panel’s resident digital proponent espoused a much sunnier outlook. Marc Andreessen, general partner of Andreessen Horowitz LLC, and the founder of Netscape, talked up the joys of his $4,000-per-month personal high-speed Internet connection and the joys of social media apps like Facebook’s unaccountably popular “Farmville” game.
Nonplussed, Moonves cracked, “How do you have time to work? … You’ve been very successful, considering how much leisure time you must have.”
Jumping on the social media meme, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said the industry needs to move forward on gleaning data about consumer behavior. “Just as Facebook has reams of valuable information about their users, we want to know who these people are.”
Chiming in toward the conclusion of the discussion, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demo’s the operator’s new iPad app, the Xfinity Remote “Here is research, data and experience,” Roberts said, holding the Apple device aloft. “You can control TV with the iPad and learn more about the shows you’re watching, like CSI. This liberates us from the cable box.”
Capping the morning’s chat, Roberts said networks and operators simply have to hop on the wave or risk being left in the tidal wrack. “The pace of innovation is speeding up…you can’t pretend otherwise,” he said. “We just have to make it more fun.”
But it was the traditional TV guy who got the last word in at this cable confab. Speaking with characteristic bluntness, Moonves dispelled any lingering utopian vibes. “Whenever anyone says ‘it’s not about the money,’ it’s about the money,” Moonves said. “It’s about how do you get paid in this new world.”