Moguls Share Their Favorite TV Channels
NEW YORK - Besides the cable networks owned by their entertainment conglomerates, Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes likes to watch PBS, News Corp. president, COO and deputy chairman Chase Carey enjoys ESPN, and Time Warner Cable boss Glenn Britt likes NBC.
The moguls shared their TV habits - as well as their thoughts on hot-button industry issues, such as cord cutting and competition from Netflix - Tuesday during a panel discussion moderated by Fox Business Network anchor Liz Claman on the opening day of the Cable Show in Chicago.
Asked which channel he prefers, Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman looked at Claman and said "Fox Business News, of course." Cox Communications president Pat Esser picked the History Channel, and Comcast Cable head Neil Smit said he would pick C-Span in the vein of Bewkes.
Smit said that the recent Comcast-NBCUniversal deal allows him to pick up the phone and call NBCUni CEO Steve Burke any time, which enables more cross-promotion and experimentation, even though he added that this may not necessarily require a merger.
Claman also asked the industry moguls about fears of cable cord cutting, or consumers dropping their pay TV subscriptions to watch TV shows online.
Smit said Comcast still has seen "no evidence" of cord cutting and is focused on not giving consumers a reason to leave the pay TV service. Adding new features, such as a call feature under a new deal with Skype, is one key way to retain customers, he said.
Dauman said the media and entertainment industry held up well during the latest recession.
And Britt also said true cord cutting for technological reasons is "barely measurable." But he reiterated that low-income homes remain under financial pressure and may not be able to afford pay TV services. That is why TWC has experimented with smaller and cheaper programming packages, he said.
Similarly, Esser pointed to recent Wall Street research that argued that poverty is a key challenge for cable operators.
Meanwhile, Bewkes said the best way to combat possible competition is to put all TV offers online and not charge extra for them. Britt similarly said that cable operators must "embrace all screens," because there is no such thing as a TV anymore in the digital age.
Smit shared some insight into Comcast's iPad app, saying that only about 25 percent of its users watch content, while 50 percent use it to activate remote DVR and other tools.
Dauman said changing consumer habits mean that putting TV on the Web isn't good enough. Integrating live tweets into programs and using Facebook fan pages are also key for TV networks.
Dauman also emphasized the importance of original content, saying that people don't want to "watch the 17th repeat of the same show," but new content. To that end, when asked what kind of people he would hire, Dauman said Viacom needs more creative people, especially young ones who understand technology.
Dauman shrugged off the suggestion that Netflix's recent move into original programming was a major threat for content giant. "We are very comfortable," he said, adding that Netflix's streaming video service is still mostly focused on offering acquired library product.
Bewkes also told the crowd of cable industry folks to cheer up rather than being pessimistic. "It's morning in the cable industry," he said, emphasizing that it is not in the music industry's shoes. After all, people want to watch online what has been shown on cable TV, Bewkes said.