TW topper sez studios need to consider exhibs in developing premium VOD

Jeff Bewkes on Wednesday struck a more conciliatory tone about theater owners and Netflix, both of which have clearly felt under attack from the Time Warner topper in recent months.

Speaking during a Bloomberg-sponsored Q&A conducted by TV host Charlie Rose at Gotham’s Tribeca Film Festival, Bewkes said he had a “fondness” for Netflix. He characterized the streaming service as subscription TV. “Welcome, brother,” he added, to laughs from the audience.

Starting late last year, Bewkes went on the offensive against Netflix, saying the service’s influence was over-hyped. He likened the threat from Netflix to the Hollywood establishment to the Albanian Army taking over the world. Since then, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told CNBC this week, he has had special Albanian Army dog tags made and wears them to psyche himself up.

When asked about Netflix’s foray into its own original programming, Bewkes said he welcomed the strategy. “It will bring more vigor and competition. It’s good for everybody. We expect it. It will either be on CBS, or now it will be on Netflix,” he said.

Addressing another industry tempest, Bewkes said studios “have to have the interest of theater owners in mind” when deciding how to participate in premium VOD. He added that theater owners need to protect their business models.

“We need the support of all our distributors,” he said. At the same time, he suggested that releasing movies on-demand sooner could help curtail piracy, saying that the gap between “movies disappearing from theaters three weeks after release and when they are available in DVD and on-demand four months later” makes the films particularly vulnerable.

Bewkes and Time Warner have led the charge in developing the premium VOD biz, with the most recent iteration being a test with DirecTV to make selected titles available for $30 two months after the picture bows in theaters. The theater owners have gone ballistic over such proposals, saying it will cut into the incentive for consumers to see movies in theaters.

In response to a question from Rose about what keeps him up at night, Bewkes said he worries that as more entertainment goes digital, there aren’t sufficient copyright laws and regimes in place around the world to protect “what creative people do.”

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