MediaFile

Netflix: The New Arch-Frenemy

Albanian Army marching in Tirana's main square (Photo: Reuters)

 

The Albanian Army is coming everyone, watch out!

We’re only into week 1 of big media companies reporting their quarterly earnings and the most prominent name hasn’t been CBS Corp, Time Warner Inc, Comcast Corp, and Viacom — instead it’s all been about Netflix.

Pretty much on each of these companies’ conference calls, the $4 billion company from Los Gatos, California was a key reason for a boon to the bottom line by supplying  ’found money’ by digital licensing of shows that would have been gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in Hollywood. But also on the calls for several of the same companies, Netflix was seen by analysts as a threat to their future. Let’s not forget the four who reported this week have combined market value of over $160 billion.

At CBS on Tuesday, which most people see as a broadcast and billboards advertising company, the first quarter was given a nice bump from its licensing of old CBS shows like”‘Cheers” but also by newer cable shows like Showtime’s “‘Dexter” and “Sleeper Cell”. Here’s the ever ebullient CBS CEO Les Moonves telling analysts on Tuesday how great Netflix and other copycats are:

“Content is forever and quality content never goes out of style. Nowhere is this more evident than the way we monetize our content digitally. In addition to the deals we struck with Netflix and Amazon, other online video distributors are looking to license our library content. These deals are having a big impact on our financial results, adding meaningful, very high margin dollars to our bottom line”

It was similar over at Time Warner Inc on Wednesday, where the now infamous Albanian Army quip was originally shared by CEO Jeff Bewkes. Asked to spell out the impact of subscription video on-demand services like Netflix going forward, Bewkes essentially said it’s a beautiful thing:

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.

Familiar script: Home entertainment spending slips

Spending on home viewing of movies and television, on a downward spiral in recent years, fell again in 2011 as sales of DVDs and rentals at video stores dropped.

Total U.S. consumer dollars spent on home entertainment — including DVDs, video on demand and online streaming — declined 2.1 percent to $18 billion for the year, according to industry group DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Consumers continued to shift to lower-priced rentals from companies such as Netflix and Coinstar’s Redbox kiosks, eschewing outright ownership.

The DEG pointed to bright spots, including a 20 percent jump in sales of high-definition Blu-ray discs that topped $2 billion for the first time. “The industry’s performance clearly stabilized in 2011,” it said in a statement. (The top choices for the year? “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1,” followed by “Part 2″ at No. 2)

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.

No NBA games on TV? American Chopper still rolling

The NBA season should have begun last night. The big match-up was supposed to be between the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls. But of course that never materialized.

It’s unfortunately nearing the point where the league will be hard-pressed to play a full season, even if an agreement is reached soon. Only so many games can be squeezed into January, February and March.

So what is a fan to do? Look around for other entertainment, probably, whether that’s NCAA basketball or ice hockey. Or Storm Chasers. Or American Chopper.

Advertising weak? Quit worrying so much already

Viacom Inc’s not sweating it, Time Warner Inc. isn’t all that concerned. Why, CBS Corp and Discovery Communications Inc. are cool as cucumbers. Disney certainly sounds confident, as does Scripps Networks Interactive.

So why are investors and analysts — those Nervous Nellies of the financial world — so worried about the advertising market? Besides, you know, the fact that the stock market is getting smacked around, the job picture is just ridiculous, and the U.S. housing market is a wreck. Besides Europe’s debt crisis, which seems to have no resolution in sight. Besides the memories of 2009, when U.S. advertising spending dropped by 16 percent to $163 billion.

It may simply be that advertisers haven’t yet made the decision the cut budgets. But listening to all the top media executives at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia Conference this week left one with the impression that they are feeling pretty upbeat about advertising — and don’t expect any cuts in the near future.

Time Inc creates sports and news divisions

Just before the Christmas holidays, newly appointed Time Inc. CEO Jack Griffin put the finishing touches on changes in the executive suite with the formation of two new divisions, one for news and one for sports.

Mark Ford has been promoted to executive vice president of Time Inc. and president of the Sports Group, responsible for the Sports Illustrated franchise.

Additionally, John Q. Griffin (no relation to Jack Griffin) has been named executive vice president of Time Inc and president of the News Group, responsible for Time, Fortune and Money properties.  He was previously president of publishing at the National Geographic Society. Within that group, Kim Kelleher will become publisher of Time and Brendan Ripp, currently the publisher of Time, moves over to become publisher of Money.

Time Warner says no advanced degree needed for device management

jeff bewkesTime Warner Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes stopped in at the Reuters Global Media Summit and shared his vision for a future where people will get all their entertainment needs on every device, like smart phones, tablets and computers– but said it must be easy for consumers.

“We don’t want in the future for people to have to have  a Phd in device management,” Bewkes told Reuters journalists, but stressed  that the future of the media business clearly lies on “more and more devices not less,” he said.

Bewkes noted Time Warner was the first company to come up with the idea of putting its network and programming out on demand on all platforms at no extra cost, referring to his TV Everywhere initiative that will offer streaming content free to customers who subscribe to cable.

Telcos are winning the cable TV battle but are they losing the broadband war?

War scene

The latest quarterly numbers from AT&T and Verizon Communications points to steady addition of TV customers which they are very likely winning from the cable companies as well as satellite players. AT&T said it posted its first ever billion-dollar revenue quarter for its U-Verse services (which includes Internet).  It added 209,000 U-Verse TV subscribers and now has 2.5 million in total. Meanwhile Verizon said it added 174,000 FiOS TV subscribers and now has 3.2 million in total.

Together the telcos, wh0 only launched their competing services less than five years ago now have a more than 5 percent share of U.S. pay-TV homes.

So well done to the telcos! Or is that the whole story? Analysts at Bernstein Research point out that both phone companies lost a combined 65,000 Internet access subscribers (after netting out additions from U-verse/FiOS and losses of DSL customers).

When newsweeklies reigned

This week marked the deadline for non-binding bids for  Newsweek, the challenged publication The Washington Post Co.  put on the block on May 5.  So far at least four parties have come forward and expressed interest.

These are troubled times for weekly news magazines. On one hand, they must try to keep pace with a ruthless news cycle that shows no sign of slowing.  On the other, the best way to do so would be to become more digital and abandon their print editions — but those are what bring in the most revenue.

It’s not just Newsweek. The parent company of Newsweek’s  main competitor, Time magazine, has been fielding questions from investors and analysts about the likelihood of a possible sale — not just of Time but the whole Time Inc. unit.