Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes took the stage at Business Insider’s IGNITION conference earlier this week to talk shop with Henry Blodget about, among other topics, the online entertainment industry.
Bewkes, who was fundamental in HBO’s rise to become the preeminent premium cable network (having served as CFO, then President and COO, and then CEO during his almost 20 year stint at the company) before taking the helm at Time Warner to oversee Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Time Inc., HBO, and more from the multimedia conglomerates laundry list of assets, knows a thing or two about content. And given his current position and pedigree, his take on the state and trajectory of the industry is particularly noteworthy.
Regarding Netflix, Bewkes doesn’t think it’s a competitor to entertainment entities like HBO, but complementary. The subscription service gives viewers an opportunity to catch up on syndicated serialized programming and makes that programming available to viewers with a great navigation system. Regarding Netflix’s pledge to invest millions (if not billions) in original content creation and YouTube’s $100 million Original Channels Initiative, Bewkes welcomes it with a smile and perspective.
“Just to put it in perspective,” Bewkes said, “Well, we’re doing $5 billion a year in production on our networks and TV businesses, so…welcome.”
Bewkes “welcome” to Netflix and YouTube wasn’t said with the the at-least-ostensibly-genuine-and-serious tone of Apple’s “welcome” to IBM, but with an oh-that’s-nice though not-quite-dismissive smile. Is this the quip of a railroad baron commenting on the burgeoning auto industry? Possibly! Though it will be a decade or so before we know for sure.
Regardless, Bewkes’ take is certainly understandable, given the dollar figures devoted towards original content by Netflix and YouTube could amount to a rounding error on his balance sheet. But it’s a little odd, too, given Time Warner Investments is reported to be cutting multi-channel YouTube network Maker Studios a check to the tune of $40 million.
Two things, however, are for sure. 1) Just the fact Bewkes made the comment about online video entertainment companies shows how far the online video industry has come in the recent past and 2) they show how much farther it still has to go.