MediaFile

Could a Netflix-cable alliance spur HBO to go rogue?

A potential alliance between online video streaming company Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> and cable companies could spur cable television’s biggest premium player HBO to consider its options beyond the set-top box and go directly to customers on the Web.

But not anytime soon.

Analysts say Time Warner Inc’s  HBO, which has more than 28 million customers through its cable, satellite and phone partners, would be in no hurry to risk hurting their very profitable business based on a perceived threat from Netflix or any other newcomers.
“Why fix it if it’s not broke,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Tuna Amobi. “You’re virtually jeopardizing billions of dollars, it seems remote from our perspective.”
People familiar with HBO executives’ thinking say this has been looked at and they ‘have done the math’ and are even more sceptical it makes sense.
Yet the question, which is often asked, comes up again with the news that Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings has opened early talks with cable operators for a partnership.

Reed Hastings, Netflix Chief Executive

If these Netflix talks come to fruition the alliance could start out as a billing partnership — with Netflix appearing as a line on cable customers’ bills. But the talks have also encompassed the possibility of Netflix shows one day being offered on-demand say people familiar with the talks.
On a financial basis the two could not be more different. Netflix has warned investors it will likely turn in a loss this year, while HBO will likely grow its $1.5 billion in operating profits. In creative terms, Netflix is dipping its toe into producing original shows, while HBO is a record-breaking Emmy-award winner nearly every year.
The concern for cable investors is that even though Netflix is still seen as a poor man’s HBO, with its package of older TV series and movies with few original shows, it will compete on a level playing field in the battle for customers’ time on a set-top box.
Hastings frequently says Netflix will look more like HBO in the future. Last month, his company launched ‘Lilyhammer‘, the first of five new original series on its service and likely will look at more as it tries to give its customers reasons to stay on even as programming costs rise.
But in a potential partnership with cable, Hastings focus will primarily be on pay television’s 100 million home distribution.
“We believe distribution agreements with the cable providers could materially increase Netflix’s subscriber base in a relatively short period of time,” said Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente. “The question for Netflix, however, is how to reach greater scale without sacrificing all the economics to its cable partners.” Such a partnership could also lower acquisition costs and improve profitability he added.
Even after guessing a fairly high overlap between Netflix’s 23 million subscribers and those homes. There would still be plenty of room for growth if Netflix is offered as some sort of discounted add-on deal to consumers.
“Netflix is at a point where they are trying to get as much distribution as possible. However, I think Netflix needs the cable distributors more than vice versa,” Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said.
Such a deal would not be a million miles away from something Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> has already been announced the launch of Streampix, a Web-based extension of its on-demand programming with a wide range of older TV shows and movies.
Perhaps the earliest example of how this could work is seen with the lastest version of Apple Inc’s <AAPL.O> Apple TV set-top box, which now allows users to sign up and get billed directly for Netflix through the box.

All in all,  HBO bosses might end up having to take heed from a character in their award-winning show ‘The Wire’ and  understand the “game done changed.”

Cablevision also joins Time Warner Cable with HBO Go offer

True Blood actors Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin (Photo: Reuters)

After months of speculation we now know ad nauseum that cable markets of New York and Los Angeles will soon have HBO Go, HBO’s much acclaimed online video service. New York cable operator Cablevision said on Monday it will start offering HBO Go to its HBO subscribers in the next few months. Time Warner Cable, which dominates the New York City and Los Angeles markets, made a similar announcement late on Friday.

It’s worth repeating that HBO Go’s slick Web service and extensive library of exclusive TV shows and movies is only available to verified paying HBO cable subscribers and not as a standalone service. But even then it is significant for the strategy of HBO parent — Time Warner — to counter Netflix’s rise by offering a more flexible and mobile HBO service wherever and whenever subscribers want it.

The delays to offering the service to Time Warner Cable and Cablevision subscribers, was down to money (Quelle surprise!). While cable operators recognize the importance of offering additional value to programming packages by putting authenticated programming online — beyond the traditional TV package — they don’t always feel they need to pay too much extra over what they already pay.

How much will Google TV cost?

Almost five months after telling the world about its television aspirations, Internet search giant Google is providing more details on its forthcoming Google TV service.

The first devices featuring Google TV, from Sony and Logitech, will be available this month, Google said in a blog post on Monday.

Google also listed a variety of media and technology companies whose content and services will be available on Google TV, including HBO, Netflix, Twitter and music video website Vevo.

TV Everywhere’s high priest Bewkes keeps preaching

One day soon you’ll be able to watch your TV everywhere: online, on-the-go, your phones, just about everywhere and Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes wants you to know about it and believe it.

Bewkes, perhaps relieved to talk about something other than how best to get rid of AOL , took the opportunity on Time Warner’s first quarter earnings call to share more of his vision for how he plans to free your favorite TV shows from the shackles of the cathode ray tube box (yes, some of us still own those).

The way Bewkes sees it if you’re already subscribing to a TV channel at home, you should be able to watch it for free on broadband from any provider, wherever and whenever you want.

Time Warner: It’s the hits, stupid

Far be it for us to be the umpteenth person to assail Wired editor Chris Anderson’s much quoted and yet much maligned book, The Long Tail, but Time Warner would rather keep churning out more “Dark Knights” and “Harry Potters” than fiddling down its long tail, thank you very much

The Long Tail, as you may recall, argues that thanks to the digitization of content and much lower cost of distribution, content producers will see more of their sales and profits being generated by niche content i.e. the long tail of their sales graph.

But Time Warner, by many measures the world’s largest media company, says that while it is seeing more niche content sales, it would rather the humongous profits you can make with a super hit like “The Dark Knight.”

Holidays bring much-needed cheer to Hollywood

Christmas was good to Hollywood.

The top holiday movie, “Marley & Me,” sold an estimated $37 million worth of tickets during the traditional three-day weekend beginning on Friday, and overall Christmas Day sales reached $75 million, up about $10 million from last year.

While that’s good news, particularly during the downturn, it won’t be nearly enough to salvage an otherwise rough year in the movie business, as Reuters points out.

Still, Hollywood is on course for a down year. With three days left, year-to-date sales are off about 1 percent at $9.5 billion, while the number of tickets sold has slid 5.2 percent, Media By Numbers said.

Is MySpace dreaming of a music device?

    Step right up and take your best shot. Think you’ve got a digital music player that can compete with Apple’s iPod? Bring it. Go ahead. Others have. Look what happened to them.

Think Microsoft’s Zune or Sandisk’s Sansa.

But one of these days somebody, somewhere is going to come up with a device that trumps the iPod. It’s only a matter of time. The question is, who will that be?

Well, one contender might just be News Corp. Its MySpace could eventually be interested in developing a player to go along with the big music venture it recently launched, it seems.

What’s new with the Redstone family?

sumner.jpgThe Redstone family knows drama. Late last week, Sumner Redstone’s family holding, National Amusements, announced that it was making a substantial stock sale in each of its key holdings, CBS and Viacom to comply with debt covenants. 

But the sale raised questions about whether some of the proceeds from the sales were actually earmarked to fund and expansion of National Amusements movie theater business, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Sumner Redstone’s daughter, Shari, who runs National Amusements, issued a statement to the Wall Street Journal denying that the stock sale had anything to do with expanding the theater business.

Take cover: Forecast darkens for cable spending

storm-clouds.jpgAnybody out there in TV land riding an Olympic buzz (NBC’s ratings have been scorching) will be brought back down to earth by these numbers from SNL Kagan.

Cable TV ad revenue is forecast to grow at just 4.7 percent in 2009, the firm says. That compares to growth of about up 10 percent for 2008, when cable has been one of the few bright spots for media.  Or as paidContent sums it up, ”This year appears bad enough for media revenues, but for cable TV, 2009 is nothing to look forward to.”

The SNL Kagan numbers back up concerns that were voiced in an article by Reuters’ Kenneth Li after Viacom’s quarterly earnings report last month.

Even HBO needs an editor

New York Times columnist Frank Rich plainly was missing something in his life: a creative consulting gig at a major cable network. See the release for details:

In this capacity, Rich will both initiate and help develop projects at the pay-TV network.
“Frank is one of the smartest and most astute observers of popular culture, and we are thrilled that we can call upon his judgment and superb instincts,” said Plepler and Lombardo.

And the important part for ethics-types, considering Rich will stay at the Times: