Viacom CEO says Paramount plans to 'dip its toe' in TV production
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman touted Paramount’s plans to “dip its toe” in TV production by rebooting the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise as a TV series for CBS.Time Warner boss Jeff Bewkes stayed mostly mum about plans to sell all or part of the Time Inc. publishing unit but couldn’t say enough, as usual, about the merits of TV Everywhere to help cable and satellite operators stave off competition from over-the-top services. Dauman and Bewkes were among the media heavyweights who participated Monday in the Deutsche Bank confab in Palm Beach, Fla. Dauman’s sesh included his first public take on the lawsuit filed against Viacom last week by Cablevision over what the cable operator describes as unlawful bundling practices. That suit promises a war of words in public opinion as well as in the courtroom as the usually circumspect Dauman said the cabler wants “three suits for the price of one.” Cablevision claims Viacom forced it to take 14 channels it didn’t want in order to secure deals for must-haves Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central. The suit, filed last Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, is seen as a challenge to the widespread industry practice of bundling channels together in carriage deals. Dauman insists the New York area cabler mostly seeks to squeeze additional concessions from an affiliate deal the companies signed two months ago. The pact required “vigorous negotiation,” Dauman said, and some concessions on Viacom’s part — including lowering the original asking price, offering customer-friendly concessions like TV Everywhere and extending the term of the contract. Dauman said Viacom offered Cablevision a discount for taking all the networks and that Cablevision had carried them all under its previous deal. But, he said, they figured “We got three suits for the price of two” and wanted more. “So the bottom line is that I guess the lawyers will get rich on this.” He suggested Cablevision could better spend the millions of dollars in legal feels on customer service. Cablevision issued a statement in response to Dauman’s latest comments. “The tactics employed by Viacom are illegal, anti-consumer and wrong, and force Cablevision’s customers to take and pay for more than a dozen channels they don’t want in order to receive the Viacom channels they want. Viacom’s abuse of its market power prevents Cablevision from delivering more programming choice, particularly among networks that compete with Viacom’s less popular channels.” With “Beverly Hills Cop,” Sony Pictures TV initiated the project last summer after Eddie Murphy and Shawn Ryan had a meeting of minds about focusing the series on the Axel Foley character’s son. At that time, Sony struck a licensing deal with Par, but the deal gave Par the option to sign on as a co-producer. In a memo to staffers sent Monday after Dauman’s remarks earlier in the day, Par chairman Brad Grey touted the potential of the pilot, penned by Ryan and helmed by Barry Sonnenfeld. “This pilot is also an example of being nimble and looking at our library with an eye toward capitalizing on an opportunity to make great content and create value by reviving a wonderful Paramount franchise,” Grey said. During Bewkes’ sesh, the CEO would not characterize whether Time Inc. is a non-core asset or not for the conglom. It’s no secret that Bewkes has had talks in recent weeks with Meredith Corp. to sell some titles, though it’s not clear if the talks are ongoing. Time Warner has been pouring cash into television and film production and already cut loose businesses like Time Warner Cable, AOL and Warner Music Group judged nonessential to its filmed entertainment hub. Bewkes is also laser-focused on TV Everywhere. He’s the biggest defender of the industry’s ability to keep a lock on the current ecosystem if it can offer easy, attractive ways for people to find and watch shows online. If cable companies “don’t offer an interface that is as good as the brand video guys offer, eventually they will drive everyone away. But that’s not a rights issue, it’s an interface issue,” he said. There’s not much evidence of cord cutting so far, he said, despite rising cable prices. “If the price is too high, you’d expect to see people revolting in some way,” he said, but nobody buys the lower priced packages. Asked yet again about Netflix’s foray into original programming with series “House of Cards” and its decision to serve up all 13 episodes of its first season at the same time, Bewkes reiterated the importance of the “water cooler effect” for new episodes of HBO series. “We don’t think the new stuff needs to go that way,” he said.