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Conglom kahunas downplay digital

Parsons questions viability of new media

The biggest execs in old media took to the stage Tuesday to pooh pooh talk that new media would usurp the congloms’ central place in the entertainment world.

Time Warner topper Richard Parsons was the most outspoken of a group of panelists that included News Corp., chief operating officer Peter Chernin, Comcast topper Brian Roberts and Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman.

Comparing a potential showdown between congloms and new-media companies like Google and Yahoo to the fight between General Custer and the Sioux Indian tribe, Parsons said that new media was in danger of underestimating the power of congloms.

“They may have repeat rifles, but at the end of the day, they’ll lose this war if we go to war,” he told an audience at the NCTA cable show in Las Vegas.

Parsons also questioned the long-term viability of the new-media companies. “Ten years from now, all the companies on this stage you’ll still see on the stage,” he said. “I’m not so sure about the new kids on the block.”

And he pointed to the recent box office rebound as proof that claims about changing entertainment behaviors were overblown.

Chernin, too, said that the focus on new-media platforms obscured the media biz’s largest sources of revenue.

“The amount of money we get from (Yahoo and Google) is a fraction of what we get from the cable industry,” he said in comments echoed by Roberts.

Chernin also said that much of the talk about how mobile will soon be a robust new business for congloms was premature. “It’s like the cable business in the late ’70s,” exec said. “There’s no way to know what will or won’t work.”

Comments came as congloms try to marshal the power of new media without turning over too much control or revenue to new partners. Cable has become a focal point of these efforts, with the industry having taken a traditional wire-based business and used it for new-media ventures like broadband and on-demand content.

Ironically, the most toned-down skepticism came from Dauman, whose company is suing Google and YouTube.

Chernin also gave some details on News Corp.’s pact with NBC Universal for a video-content platform, saying that the technology could be harnessed to benefit old media with ad sales at the upfront and in other venues.

But “we need to move slowly and carefully,” he acknowledged. “We’re creating a totally new model.”

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