×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

ESPN Chief: Cable TV Has to ‘Protect Our Turf’ Against Online Challengers

Cable television is a better product than Internet video services — but the industry still needs to improve how it delivers TV across all devices and emphasize the value of pay TV, according to John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks.

With services like Netflix touting their simplicity and content, “We are allowing them in some ways to set the tone of the conversation,” said Skipper, speaking at the Cable Show 2014 opening general session Tuesday.

“Clearly the big social and digital platforms are competing for eyeballs, and they’re competing for advertising,” the exec said. “You see Yahoo commission two comedy series; yes, they are competing in our business — but shame on us if we don’t protect our turf.”

The cable industry has to make authenticated TV services work well on every device, he said: “We have superior content. We need superior delivery systems.”

John Martin, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, agreed that the industry is still lagging on making TV everywhere a great consumer experience. “If there is a call to action at this conference, it’s for programmers and distributors to work together” on improving the features of subscription TV services, he said. Authentication is a barrier to usage, he said, and cable operators need to improve the robustness of video-on-demand.

Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Rob Marcus acknowledged that there’s potential competition to cable TV from online-video providers, while “clearly over-the-top video is one of the things that highlights the value of high-speed data connections.”

But Marcus bristled when panel moderator Betty Liu of Bloomberg TV suggested that the success of Netflix constituted a “failure” of the cable industry. “The fact that someone came up with an interesting technique of aggregating and reselling other people’s content over someone else’s infrastructure — that does not indicate a failure on cable’s part,” he said.

Nancy Dubuc, president-CEO of A+E Networks, said Netflix does have a “beautiful” interface: “I do wish our cable partners would take a closer look at making the consumer experience better and better,” she said.

On a separate panel, Liberty Global president and CEO Michael Fries argued that Netflix’s success did expose a failure of the cable industry: “We have a massive functionality gap…. It was easier, cooler and simpler to find things on Netflix.” Liberty Global is now offering next-generation video services that incorporate digital video services and, in fact, the company’s Virgin Media in the U.K. partnered with Netflix to provide an integrated service on TiVo DVRs.

Operators should “steal the best” ideas from others, Fries said, noting that the cable industry did not invent the DVR. “You don’t necessarily have to be first,” he said.

The issue of rising programming costs came up, which Marcus said represents “a fundamental problem with the ecosystem.”

ESPN is the most expensive channel on cable, Skipper freely admitted, but he said that’s because it is also the most valuable and is important to hold the entire pay-TV bundle together. Programmers and pay-TV operators “have to work together to sell the value to the pay-TV sub,” he said.

Jerry Kent, chairman and CEO of Suddenlink Communications, said he’s concerned that the biz will reach a tipping point where consumers abandon cable TV because of high prices. “We need flexibility of working with programmers to deliver lower-priced tiers,” he said. Otherwise, the government may step in to mandate a la carte pricing, “or we’ll have to take a hard look at what programming we want to continue carrying,” Kent said.

Separately, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered a keynote address at the conference in which he urged Time Warner Cable and others to reach deals to bring the Dodgers to all pay-TV subscribers. In L.A. currently, Time Warner Cable is the only operator that carries SportsNet LA, the regional sports network that is the only place to watch many Dodgers games.

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein, Who Entered Court on Walker, Gets Bail Hiked to $5 Million

    A judge on Wednesday increased Harvey Weinstein’s bail to $5 million, following repeated violations of his ankle monitor system. Justice James Burke agreed to the prosecution’s request to hike his bail, which had been set at $1 million. The defense claimed that the lapses in monitoring were due to technical glitches. Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi alleged [...]

  • Time Person of the Year Greta

    Greta Thunberg Named Time Magazine's Person of the Year

    Time magazine has named Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist, as its 2019 Person of the Year. Thunberg, the youngest recipient of the annual honor, was selected from a shortlist that included Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, the Trump impeachment whistleblower and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Thunberg gained national attention for skipping school [...]

  • Hipgnosis Acquires Catalog From Jeff Bhasker

    Hipgnosis Acquires Catalog From Bruno Mars-Harry Styles Collaborator Jeff Bhasker

    Hipgnosis Songs Fund has acquired a music catalog from five-time Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and musician Jeff Bhasker. Terms of the deal were not announced, but Bhasker has worked extensively with such artists as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars (on “Uptown Funk” and Mars’ “Unorthodox Jukebox” album), Kanye West (“808s & Heartbreak” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted [...]

  • Kasi LemmonsNew York Women in Film

    Kasi Lemmons, Jane Rosenthal, Ann Dowd Talk Golden Globes Female Director Snub

    The absence of women among director nominees for the Golden Globes is another example of how much work remains to be done to achieve gender parity in the entertainment industry, honorees said Tuesday night at the 40th annual Muse Awards presented by New York Women in Film and Television. “Harriet” director Kasi Lemmons, “The Irishman” [...]

  • Juice WRLD - Jarad HigginsWireless Festival,

    Juice Wrld Streams Climb Nearly 500% After His Death

    As often happens after an unexpected death, Juice Wrld’s music soared in popularity after his passing on Sunday, with streams climbing nearly 500% on that day alone. On-demand audio streams for the rapper, who died at the age of 21 after suffering a seizure at Chicago’s Midway Airport, climbed 487% on Sunday to more than [...]

  • Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California,

    Netflix Ordered to Stop Poaching Fox Employees

    A court on Tuesday issued an injunction barring Netflix from poaching employees from Fox and confirming the validity of fixed-term employment agreements. The ruling marks a hard-fought victory for Fox — now owned by Disney — which set out three years ago to stop Netflix from raiding its employees. Netflix had sought to invalidate Fox’s [...]

  • Harry Styles performs at the Greek

    First Look at Harry Styles' Ticket-Giveaway Bus (EXCLUSIVE)

    Harry Styles announced Tuesday he is partnering with American Express to give away tickets to his concert at the Forum in Los Angeles on Friday — on a special custom bus. At the show, “Harry Styles Fine Line Live: One Night Only!,” the singer is expected to perform his entire new album, which is also [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content