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Bewkes to Netflix: ‘Welcome, Brother!’

27 Apr, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Jeff Bewkes

Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes April 27 toned down his customary harsh rhetoric toward Netflix, even lauding the online disc rental pioneer’s foray into original subscription television programming.

Speaking with moderator Charlie Rose at the “Business of Television” program at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, Bewkes retreated from his customary dismissal of Netflix’s business model by acknowledging that the service offered an inexpensive and “convenient” consumer option.

The CEO has publicly blasted Netflix’s $7.99-per-month streaming service (and kiosks) for helping to undermine secondary distribution channels for entertainment content, including notably syndication TV and pay-TV channels.

Earlier this year, Bewkes infamously characterized Netflix as the Albanian army attempting to invade the United States, among other putdowns. Of course, lightening up on Netflix might be in order the day after the company’s stock lost more than $1 billion in value following investor concerns about streaming costs, foreign expansion and burgeoning competition. It regained about a third of the loss at the market’s close April 27.

“I do have a fondness for subscription television, and Netflix is subscription television. So, welcome, brother!” Bewkes joked.

The CEO said he approved of Netflix’s recent big-dollar acquisition of the rights to a serial remake of British serial drama “House of Cards,” which will be released next year starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and directed by Oscar nominee David Fincher (The Social Network).

"We think it's great that they are doing that,” Bewkes said. "If they move toward original programming, then they will be like HBO.”

Indeed, HBO is exactly the content platform Netflix has long envied and sought to come to terms with. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, often has stated that his goal is to acquire license rights to HBO fare.

Bewkes also said he supported industry efforts at rolling out premium VOD in light of the fact a theatrical release generates the bulk of its revenue three weeks after release. Any longer the window and the title is opening itself up to piracy, which he said hurts studios and theater operators.

About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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