Abu Dhabi Media Summit: Warner Bros., Weather Channel Executives See Continued Mobile Growth

Abu Dhabi Media Zone - P 2012

Abu Dhabi Media Zone - P 2012

"All these screens add to the basic experience" and are additive to the traditional business, says Warner's Jim Wuthrich.


ABU DHABI - Top executives from Warner Bros. and the Weather Channel predicted here Wednesday that their companies would see continued growth in tablet usage and digital and mobile revenue.

In a session entitled "Tablets Rising: Mobile Doubles Down" at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, Jim Wuthrich, president, Warner Bros. international home video and digital distribution, said that mobile is "an important part of our [digital] business, but it's still a small part" at maybe around 30 percent, although there are no hard figures. "Most people are still accessing their content through PCs," but "tablets are becoming a more important way."

Especially in the case of long-form content, "consumers will gravitate to the best screen they have available at the time," the Warner executive suggested. And that means the continued importance of big-screen TVs in homes.

But he also acknowledged that his two sons use other screens that have become their substitution for the TV. As such, they use laptops or tablets in the home, and mobiles primarily when outside the home.

Families do not gather around the TV as much in the past, and when they do, "increasingly when they gather, they have another screen in front of them," Wuthrich said.

"All these screens add to the basic experience" rather than detract from the traditional business, he argued. "All of this is additive."

With a second-screen experience, people can, for example, get additional information on content they are viewing - similarly to how they used to access DVD extras, but in real time - and get to interact. "When watching the big screen at home, they tend to have another screen in their lap," Wuthrich said. "What they are doing there is engaging socially." Apps that allow people to connect and send out tweets about favorite scenes and the like "add a social component to the linear form of content," he said.

And smartphones and tablets have opened "a new market for us" as entertainment firms "can now entertain people pretty much everywhere," Wuthrich emphasized. For example, consumers can catch up on TV shows and their movie collections when stuck on the train, he said.

Asked about piracy and up to 90 percent of content is watched illegally in less developed markets, Wuthrich said that provides upside as companies find ways to capture some of that usage via "innovative commercial solutions" and the creation and enforcement of rules. "Otherwise it's a free-for-all," he said.

Wuthrich also cited today's "barrage of video content" in the digital age, which has led to content discovery apps like Fanhattan that help people find where content is available. "Tablets are becoming an electronic programming guide," he said.

Wuthrich also said Wednesday that Hollywood continues to look at ways to relaunch a premium VOD offer in homes over time after failed tests with premium-priced films made available via DirecTV 60 days after theatrical releases. "In the end it wasn't successful," he said. But ultimately, we will see other ways of trying that concept" as windows will continue to change. But working out the business model will take a little while to work out, he predicted.

Wuthrich later told THRthat there was a slew of challenges for premium VOD - from the consumer proposition and marketing to pricing and windowing. Talks among studios and with exhibitors will continue, he predicted without providing an estimate for when the new release window may get a second start.

David Kenny, chairman & CEO of The Weather Channel Companies, said during the same session that mobile is now the lead product for his company. "Mobile is the primary way of accessing weather for people today," with 47 percent of people using weather apps on their smartphones, making weather products the most popular mobile services, he said.

He predicted that over the coming years, his company would move closer to getting half of its digital revenue from mobile.

But that doesn't mean that TV doesn't remain a core part of the Weather Channel's business. "I wouldn't underestimate TV, especially in the U.S.," he said. "When Hurricane Isaac came, 58 million people watched live on TV. Our SuperBowl are tornadoes and hurricanes. Don't underestimate the importance of live in sports, news and weather."

Plus, there continues to be a core audience that watches the Weather Channel religiously, Kenny said.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai