Bewkes: More Web content, but not free

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Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeffrey Bewkes on Monday fleshed out what he has dubbed his "TV Everywhere" initiative that would require consumers to have a pay TV subscription through a cable, satellite or telecom provider to view cable network content online.

"It's not something that's narrow-minded," he said at the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecommunications Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., warning that people shouldn't misread the initiative as a move to restrict access to online content. To the contrary, "it's very expansive," he said.

Bewkes said he wants to push more content online and allow networks to choose whether to offer it on their own Web sites, such aggregator sites as Hulu and TV.com or a combination of distribution points. TW sees it as an opportunity to provide consumers with more content online and on mobile devices, allowing them to place-shift viewing.

Bewkes said the move would protect content creators and distributors and wouldn't affect U.S. consumers because about 90% of them are multichannel subscribers anyway. The rest don't pay for multichannel TV and don't have access to cable networks, he added.

Early critics have suggested that people who can't afford pay TV service during the recession or otherwise choose to drop it won't be able to watch their favorite shows on the Web. But sector executives point out that consumers always have had to pay for cable network content.

Content companies' finances are tied to the fate of cable, satellite and telecom distributors as they benefit from network carriage fees paid by those distributors.

Some of them, including Time Warner Cable, have begun taking a stance, saying online viewing is a growth area they want to encourage as long as some consumers don't get a free ride. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt has proposed that cable networks stop putting content online for free.

Also on Monday, Bewkes again argued that it is too early to say whether the recent DVD sales slump is driven mainly by the recession or part of an accelerating longer-term secular decline.

"You shouldn't rush for the exits yet," he said, noting that DVD sales contracted by about 10% during the fourth quarter but only 4% this quarter. "It's reassuring, actually."

Asked whether he would look to buy a broadcast network, Bewkes signaled little interest unless it came at a bargain price.

"They may be in a declining (mode) long-term," he said. Some observers have suggested that TW could acquire NBC down the line.

Asked about this year's upfront, Bewkes reiterated that he expects Turner to "be up at the top of the industry again" thanks to strong network ratings and distinct brands. (partialdiff)
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