Fuchs warns infopike could prove a long haul

HBO chairman and CEO Michael Fuchs cautioned entertainment execs Thursday that the infopike may not be paved anytime soon.

And while not exactly a naysayer, Fuchs called the new delivery technology “dehumanizing” because it takes the focus off the real draw of the entertainment business.

“The emphasis (in new delivery systems) isn’t on new programming,” Fuchs told a luncheon crowd at the American Film Market in Santa Monica. “Infact, it’s on re-packaging” old programming such as vintage movies.

Fuchs’ speech kicked off the AFM, the annual brass-knuckles business confab that is bringing 2,100 film sellers together with 1,700 buyers from 60 countries , who will haggle over the distribution rights for nearly 300 independently produced films.

Agents, lawyers, bankers and completion bond company execs also roam the halls of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel looking for clients and deals. The confab runs through March 4.

Fuchs also took a moment to blast the Federal Communications Commission’s decision Tuesday to curb cable rates, calling it a blow to efforts to develop the new technology.

“This has done more to turn back the clock than anything else,” Fuchs said.

And with the implosion of the Bell Atlantic Corp./Tele-Communications Inc. deal Wednesday — the proposed merger that seemed to define the coming interactive multimedia age — the future of the infopike is even more of an open question.

“The timetable is anyone’s guess now,” Fuchs said.

The result may be that “U.S. cable and phone dollars may go overseas.” Already, Time Warner Inc., HBO’s parent, is actively developing cable businesses in other countries, as are most of the other larger cablers and telcos.

Fuchs also hinted that Time Warner would develop an Asian programming outlet to rival News Corp.’s Star TV, the Hong Kong-based satellite service. Time Warner, with Paramount, already operates HBO/Asia in the region and is planning to upgrade the service and eventually beam it into China. “That will not be the only venture,” Fuchs said, referring to Star’s lead in the race for Asian viewers. “We’re a worldwide company and we’re not going to leave half the worldbehind.”

Fuchs doesn’t think switched interactive digital systems will be common even as the ball drops in Times Square closing out this century.

“We will not be watching video-on-demand, nor will we be able to digitally alter the direction of the ball,” Fuchs said.

To be sure, Fuchs is no Luddite. The technology that will pave the infopike will help HBO develop new markets.

But in the same way that TV failed to make the movies obsolete, he said the new tech will “partially displace, but never replace what has come before.”

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