Jeff Bewkes Eschews Data-Driven Content for Traditional Creative Process7 Mar, 2017 By: Erik Gruenwedel
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has sustained a career embracing traditional entertainment business norms while keeping a watchful eye on emerging technologies.
With AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner — including Warner Bros., Turner and HBO — in the regulatory process, Bewkes understands the telecom is eyeing his company as a content creator for its burgeoning digital aspirations.
Speaking March 7 at the Deutsche Bank 2017 Media & Telecom confab in Palm Beach, Fla., Bewkes said he believes the next three-to-five years will still see the majority of revenue and subscribers emanate via the traditional network/pay-TV ecosystem.
At the same time, the executive contends so-called “skinny bundle” options, on-demand programming, targeted ad technology and over-the-top video platforms such as HBO Now, which recently reported 2 million subs, will flourish.
“You’re going to have more VOD … full-season stacking [rights] … new SVOD products at Warner Bros. and Turner … and more effort and working capital put into tech distribution,” Bewkes said.
Yet, the CEO has no interest in technology dictating content production. While Amazon Studios employs data metrics and user feedback to determine programming decisions, Bewkes prefers defering those decisions to creators and producers.
“Do you want to do ['Game of Thrones'] in a data-driven, consumer-usage way, which the digital companies tend to … have a more friendly attitude [toward]?,” he asked.
“Are the consumers, by their [digital] habits, programming the show itself? Or are you programming the show? We tend to be in the ‘we’re programming the show’ [camp]. If you don’t like it, we’re sorry. That’s how we do it. It’s a creative process. If you ask creators what they want, most of them go with that.”
Bewkes said Scandinavian SVOD service HBO Nordics is doing well after some initial technical hiccups launching in 2012. HBO operates four OTT services in Latin America, in addition to platforms in Eastern Europe and Asia. It has 120 million subscribers globally, including pay-TV.
“It’s a multiplatform approach,” he said.
When asked if Netflix created the blueprint for international distribution, Bewkes agreed the SVOD pioneer has motivated traditional TV distributors to move away from worrying about the disintermediation of their businesses by streaming video.
Instead, he said pay-TV distributors domestically and abroad covet keeping original programing on their networks and proprietary digital channels. Bewkes cited British satellite operator Sky, which he said acquires exclusive programing rights to full seasons because they also have VOD distribution.
“Never think of SVOD licensing … as a discreet set of windows or rights; it can motivate a bid from traditional first-run TV distributor also. So you end up having more demand for [your] hit shows and hit networks,” he said.