Time Warner Chief Says Cable Operators Will Eventually Embrace HBO Now

Not everyone is thrilled by the prospect of HBO’s upcoming streaming service, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes admitted at Tuesday’s Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference.

Some cable providers view the digital service as a threat to their core business of providing pay television to subscribers even though Time Warner had been warning them for some time that a standalone streaming platform was coming. Christened HBO Now, it will launch before mid-April via Apple TV.

“Most of our distributors are on board with us, and they’re going to push it,” said Bewkes. “We have some that think that it’s competitive with them and they wish that they could maintain the sole place to get an HBO.”

Ultimately, the Time Warner chief thinks that cable providers will come around because consumers are growing more accustomed to accessing content on mobile devices and via the Web. And cable operators remain the nation’s primary providers of the high-speed broadband service that facilitate these new platforms.

“It’s in their interest to take this powerful product and sell it in every way that their consumers want to get it,” said Bewkes. “They simply have to be more vigorous about it.”

He was also effusive in his praise for Apple, saying: “They’re so good. They’re so energetic at marketing. They have such a strong position, as you all know, in global users. All those connected devices.”

Changes in the media landscape may be pushing Time Warner to offer HBO in novel ways, but it won’t force the company to find some other media conglomerate to merge with in an effort to safeguard itself from all the disruptions in the entertainment space. The company was the target of an unsolicited takeover bid from 21st Century Fox last summer; during that period Bewkes argued that Time Warner had enough channels and brands in its quiver to go it alone without Rupert Murdoch.

The move was seen as part of an effort by content creators like Fox and Time Warner to grow more competitive with cable providers and distributors such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable that have been busy joining forces. Bewkes acknowledged that media consolidation is very much en vogue, but stressed that Time Warner, which also owns TNT, CNN and TBS, has sufficient scale.

“We’re the one that doesn’t need to really do anything,” said Bewkes. “As you look over at some of the other channel groups, if you have too many weak networks, it doesn’t help your position.”

In a world where on-demand and digital revenues are becoming more important, he said, “The most powerful shows, the most powerful brands are more valuable.”

One sore spot for Time Warner has been CNN, which has struggled to keep up with the ratings at rival news networks such as Fox News. However, Bewkes suggested that CNN still maintains an advantage when it comes to breaking news stories and has invested more heavily in its digital presence.

“It would be very difficult for any of our news competitors to catch up with us in our newsgathering capacity and investment level,” said Bewkes.

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