Jeff Bewkes: Beware of Apple, Amazon deals

TW chief says low-cost digital giveaways devalue TV fare

LONDON -- Time Warner boss Jeff Bewkes told British media execs that television is entering a second golden age of creativity and reward but warned against the danger of low-cost digital giveaways.

Speaking at the Royal Television Conference in London, Bewkes cautioned against deals with the likes of Apple and Amazon that undersold the value of blue-chip TV fare.

"How can you justify renting your first-run TV shows individually for 99 cents an episode and thereby jeopardize the sale of the same shows as a series to branded networks that pay hundreds of millions of dollars and make those shows available to loyal viewers for free?" he said.

"These new entrants must meet a few criteria: They must provide consumers with a superior TV experience, and they must either support or improve the overall economics that funds and creates the programming in the first place."

Bewkes told the audience that, overall, the number of television viewers is growing, paid-television penetration is increasing and advertising and subscription revenues are headed north.

In comments after the speech, the Time Warner and HBO boss reiterated his sentiments that the Time Warner/AOL merger had been "the biggest mistake in corporate history," but he insisted that it had forced the company to trade on its strengths.

Elsewhere at the same conference, ITV chief executive Adam Crozier said the commercial broadcaster will begin charging for its online content within 12-18 months but would not put it on sites like YouTube, which has deals with other broadcasters including rival Channel 4.

"I am not interested in working with aggregators," Crozier said.
"We need to keep control of our own content."

And BBC director general Mark Thompson defended the BBC from criticism that it had failed to act quickly enough on the thorny issue of executive and talent pay.

"The BBC was one of the very first public bodies to start moving on executive pay, freezing pay, stopping bonuses," he said.

The policy of paring back on spending has not been without consequences, Thompson added.

"We just lost our controller of BBC1 (Jay Hunt) to Channel 4," he said.