‘It’s all TV’: Jeff Bewkes talks merger, streaming and Bill Simmons

Bewkes: ‘People like ads’

Throughout 2016, video has been parked front and center in conversations about the future of digital media. Time Warner chairman Jeff Bewkes sat down with Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget at Business Insider’s annual event, Ignition, Tuesday to discuss that primacy. The two touched on a number of topics, with key observations pulled out here.

On what’s happening to TV
As digital video consumption has exploded across platforms over the past several years, several observers have argued that consumption on YouTube or Facebook or Snapchat should not concern the players that produce content for broadcast or cable television. Bewkes sees it differently. “It’s all TV,” Bewkes said.

“YouTube is TV, Netflix is TV.”

On content recommendation
Time Warner’s HBO, arguably, kicked off the current golden age of television. Now it seems clear that we are living through something of a TV overload. Companies like Netflix, YouTube and HBO all spend billions of dollars on new programming every year, and everybody from Apple to the New York Times is scrambling to find a way to help consumers find the right shows to watch.

To Bewkes, this is a problem best solved by the companies that provide access to the content itself.

“They need a good interface that surfaces recommendations,” Bewkes said. “They want to choose it themselves, they want to watch what they want,”

On the future of the ad-supported tv model
Services like Hulu and YouTube may be exploring the size and scope of ad-free video content, leaving some wondering what role, if any, advertising will play in top-shelf digital video.

Bewkes thinks ads will have a place. “People like ads,” Bewkes said. “Look at the Super Bowl.”

As he sees it, a lot of the problems or shortcomings video advertising deals with have to do with the limited advance of addressability and personalization. “Because they’re interruptive and they’re not as targeted, there’s probably more desire to get them out,” Bewkes added, saying that as more and more consumption happens in an environment where ads can be targeted to specific audiences, “Why wouldn’t you want that commercial information?”

On Bill Simmons
One of the few things that didn’t pan out for  HBO was “Any Given Wednesday,” a kind of late night-styled show hosted by the sports media heavyweight Bill Simmons. HBO, which is also an investor in Simmons’s Medium-hosted site, The Ringer, pulled the plug on the show after less than a full season. But when Blodget asked about “Wednesday”‘s short run, Bewkes didn’t blink.

“It didn’t flop,” he said, adding that Simmons and HBO are already at work on something “more noticeable” than “Any Given Wednesday” might have been.

On the merger
There are over 80 billion reasons to care about what happens with the AT&T and Time Warner merger that was proposed this fall. Within days, many political figures, including President-elect Donald Trump, were saying they would oppose it, calling it an unfair concentration of power.

Bewkes, who said he thinks Trump et al had come out against the deal before they had all the details, is optimistic that the deal addresses all those concerns. “As it becomes clear what we’re doing, it will be seen to be pro competitive, pro consumer,” Bewkes said. “If we didn’t think we could demonstrate that to everyone’s satisfaction we wouldn’t have embarked on it.”


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