Jeff Bewkes: Cord Cutting ‘More of a Notion Than a Reality’

The kids are all right, Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes assured investors and analysts at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference on Thursday.

Sure, mobile devices and digital video are challenging the cable industry, but today’s Hulu users will be tomorrow’s HBO subscribers.

“Once they take the mattress and get it off the floor, that’s when they subscribe to TV,” Bewkes said, arguing that older generations with families and more expendable income have always formed the backbone of the cable industry.

Bewkes and other media leaders have often scoffed at cord cutting, the notion that younger audiences are defecting from cable for digital video and other, cheaper forms of entertainment. Their dismissal of this buzzy concept may be rooted in data, but it’s also a necessary exercise in poker face maintenance. As Time Warner derives 90% of its revenue from television, any threat to this lucrative revenue stream carries an existential tinge to it.

When pressed by moderator Todd Juenger, Bewkes downplayed any concerns about a mass exodus from paid television to the online world, insisting there’s no evidence such a migration is taking place.

“We’re never complacent,” Bewkes said, when asked if he was worried. “We’re alert, I’d use that … I think you’re right to call it more of a notion than a reality.”

The key to navigating media’s changing tides will be a mixture of content and delivery, he said. On the distribution front, Bewkes waved the “TV everywhere” banner, stressing that services like HBO Go have already demonstrated the value in providing customers with access to the programming they love when and where they want it.

And while TNT and TBS may be cash-generating machines, the Time Warner chief said the company was experimenting with ways to make its programming more attractive to younger audiences weaned on “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.” That may require shaking up TNT’s procedural-heavy diet of programs such as “Rizzoli & Isles” and “Major Crimes” with shows that unfold in a serialized and linear fashion.

Bewkes promised that TNT will aim to be “a little younger and more distinctive” instead of continuing to be geared at audiences that are big, broad and older.

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