Mark Cuban: Live TV Remains the Most Important Platform

Mark Cuban Headshot 2011
Maury Phillips/Getty Images for DIRECTV

"People like bundles," the AXS TV chief said about cable TV at NATPE. "People don’t like to work for their entertainment. They’ll pay a premium if it saves them time."

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Mark Cuban, in his role as CEO of the cable channel AXS TV, said in his opening keynote appearance at NATPE/Content First that despite all the new-media platforms, he firmly believes television is still the most important because it is immediate, easy to use and most likely to spark social networking.

“Television has a huge advantage in the social media world,” said Cuban. “The Internet is designed for everything but video. Television is designed for video.”

Cuban explained what he meant by talking about “zero latency,” where everybody experiences the same viewing experience at the same time.

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“Zero latency has become the starting point for conversations,” he said. “When AXS TV broadcasts a live concert, it’s an experience you can’t get online.”

Cuban said a program broadcast in the middle of the night on even a small TV or cable network is still going to have a larger audience than anything on the web.

“So television is the medium that creates more participation than any other,” he said. Cuban also owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, among other interests, and appears on the ABC series Shark Tank. 

In response to a question from a local TV broadcaster, he warned that it can be dangerous to put programming online after it airs on television because it might take away the imperative for the viewer to show up and watch it live.

He said those who benefit from being on all platforms are very big brands and big advertisers who want to be everywhere. For a small station, however, it might help to sell advertising but can damage the attraction of the channel. He said there are better alternatives than just giving it away.

“They’re groveling for viewers to sell advertising,” said Cuban. “If you want to initiate conversations and social media and engage people and that is your goal, then you want put it on VOD.”

VOD is easier to monetize and count, and makes people more likely to show interest and to watch the entire program.

Cuban addressed other topic in his keynote, which was done as a conversation with CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow.

Cuban said people say they want to be able to make a la carte choices on cable TV but it would hurt them in practice because it would make the cost of watching cable much higher. He said a la carte already exists in such businesses as music and home video, where people pay per program.

But Cuban believes it's different for cable TV. “People like bundles," he said. "People don’t like to work for their entertainment. They’ll pay a premium if it saves them time.”

When asked about the future of Apple, he said history shows cable companies are “hot, then hip and then not [hot].”

“Apple’s a great company,” added Cuban, “no doubt about it. They make a s---load of money and will continue to, but in terms of what’s new, hip, and cool, if your parents are using it, its not going to be cool, right?”

Cuban said that among the growing choices for consumers, he believes Facebook is going to be more important than YouTube. He said that is because the main purpose of TV, in his view, is to kill time, and Facebook does that better.

Still, he added: “Facebook is going to have challenges. One is where they are going. When they went public, it changed the dynamics. They had to put a focus on revenue. What they did was move to short-term gain, long-term pain.”

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Cuban said he likes the approach of Amazon better because of its business to “grind it out and make money long-term.”

He laughed off the idea that government is stifling independent entrepreneurs. “Who cares what they do?” said Cuban. “I’ve invested in 70 companies, and I’ve never heard anybody ask about the economy slowing down or the fiscal cliff.

“There’s always going to be those things,” he added. “There’s never been a time when there wasn’t problems or issues you could raise with government. I just hope everybody I compete with is going to pay a whole lot of attention to that because I will be busy doing business at that same time.”