Media toppers defend VOD

Piracy window a threat to distribution chain, execs say

Technology harnessed properly at the right time is a friend of content, and for that reason theater owners need to be less resistant to premium VOD offerings.

That was the consensus on Wednesday from a panel of media execs gathered in Gotham, including Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes and CBS topper Leslie Moonves, in response to questions about moving films on premium-priced VOD into the theatrical window.

Speaking at an investor conference sponsored by investment firm Jeffries and Co., Moonves said ”I know theater owners are scared,” noting that all companies in media have had to adapt to new technology. ”They are going to have to change a bit to prevent a crisis.”

Bewkes argued that the period from four weeks after release in theaters, when films make the bulk of their money, to when the DVD is released makes movies vulnerable to piracy. ”Sitting in the middle (of that time frame) is a pirate industry whose interests are aligned with nobody,” said Bewkes.

Sony Corp. of America CFO Rob Wiesenthal called that time period ”an economic white space” for the studios. He did acknowledge that global theatrical distribution is still the foundation of the business but that the existing model needs to be tweaked.

”Nobody discounts (theatrical viewing),” added Bewkes, but at some point sooner consumers should have the choice with movies to ”see it in a theater, or see it at home.”

The topic of the panel was ”Is Content Still King?,” and the execs were expectedly bullish, knocking down the notion that technology threatens content’s future.

”We have a saying at CBS. ”Wireless is worthless if you are hitless,” said Moonves. Tech companies ”need us in the system.”

He said later: ”For content owners the world is a beautiful place now.”

On the topic of Netflix, Bewkes continued with his recent praise – ”(CEO) Reed (Hastings) and his team have done a good job” — but he reiterated that subscription VOD services like Netflix have their proper place in ”the economic chain.” He added that it shouldn’t receive content at a time when it can still destroy the value of shows and movies.

When asked whether Time Warner’s HBO would do a streaming deal with Netflix, Bewkes said ”CBS has not licensed it shows to NBC, and HBO has not licensed its shows to Showtime. So I don’t understand your question.”

The not-so-veiled reference to Netflix doing its own original programming was greeted with a chuckle from the audience.