Tomorrow Will Be Televised: Merry VOD, Mr. Bewkes - Simon Applebaum - MediaBizBloggers

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Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes wants the world at large to know that when the world of the tube embraces an authentication/TV everywhere initiative, another world already in place will surge.

That world Bewkes refers to repeatedly at recent speaking engagements like the "Innovation 360" New York mini-conference from TVWeek.com, is video-on-demand. More than 45 million homes nationwide have the option of watching up to 11,000 programs a month, at their leisure, from their local cable, satellite or overbuild provider. "Broadband is the future, but it's not the future yet," Bewkes suggested to the Innovation crowd. "The revolution is VOD, not broadband."

When most or all TV channels fall in lockstep with the authentication process, allowing their complete program schedule to be watched online any time by cable or satellite customers, Bewkes surmises, it will be so natural for them to extend that courtesy to VOD. "There will be another era of growth, similar to the era when all the (cable) networks started" in the 1980s, he said. "When the nets put all their product on VOD, this nice business will be a huge business."

It's unclear how fast all those nets will come around to Bewkes' thinking. As we all await how fast, there are a few things he and executives in his position can do to push VOD in the direction of huge business. Here's one: same-day/same-night/next-day windows for broadcast syndicated programming.

Ever wonder what would happen if people who miss Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy! or Entertainment Tonight when a broadcast station runs them at 7 or 7:30 p.m. each weeknight could find those programs on VOD right after their broadcast run? Or later that night? Or anytime the day after? How many people at work or coming home from work when Oprah Winfrey interviews Sarah Palin, or Judge Judy cuts some litigant to shreds, would relish the chance to catch up via VOD that night? Or catch what others see earlier on Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?, Martha Stewart or Live With Regis & Kelly?

Bet you a large chunk of the population would. True, I'm going by a mix of gut call and personal feedback. Still, you figure that a lot of people would love their favorite first-run syndicated shows on VOD, which in turn would interest a lot of advertisers. And given the ongoing ratings decline in first-run syndication, you also figure deep down the syndicators themselves would love the chance to easily extend their audience.

When I first raised this subject in a CableWorld feature timed with the annual NATPE convention a few years ago, no major syndicator--Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony, Viacom, etc.--would comment on or off the record, or return the inquiring phone call. Several smaller syndication firms did pipe up, claiming VOD had promise and was worth experimenting with. Yet here we are, and nothing much has been done.

I posed the matter to Bewkes when he and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts introduced the TV Everywhere trial at Time Warner Center in New York this summer. He believes syndication VOD has merit, and acknowledged that Warner Bros., whose first-run load of programming includes The People's Court and Extra, never gave it much consideration.

How about now? Sure, there's going to be some sensitivity issues with broadcast stations to work out. Before deals get done, stations will have to produce some income in exchange for their willingness to let a VOD window exist. All the more reason why it's important to launch the effort now, and executives like Bewkes advocate the charge.

New or made-over cable/satellite channels are in action assuring themselves of VOD representation. So are online video originators like Next New Networks and Howcast. It's going to look awfully dim for the world at large and the world of TV if this on-demand surge ahead has these players in the picture, and first-run syndication out.

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Some observations from the passing parade:

***Powerful remarks by Univision Communications CEO Joe Uva at the recent LatinVision conference. Among them: "When a person is bombarded by media that is bellicose, angry, intolerant and sensationalist, it is natural that people's thinking will follow that downward path. Just as surely, when a person is exposed to media that is thoughtful, open-minded and uplifting, that too can shape their perspective... If we allow the future of our industry to be dictated by the sensationalist paparazzi, the hateful blogger, the indifferent cell phone videographer, the partisan hack--then we are not simply risking the long-term viability of our businesses, we are jeopardizing values people are counting on us to help uphold."

***More than 40% of adults 18-34 responding to Horowitz Associates' latest digital TV study want Google on their TV sets, plus want to see photos, online videos and music from their computers on the TV screen. Almost that many want to watch YouTube on TV. The more you scope out the TV scene of late, or explore surveys like this, the easier it's getting to make this conclusion: If you're an online video producer, have a video-on-demand strategy in your sights. If you're a Web site or iPhone App Store app maker, have an interactive TV option up your sleeve.

Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio program covering the TV scene. The program runs Mondays and two Fridays a month from 3-4 p.m. Eastern time/noon-1 p.m. Pacific time over www.blogtalkradio.com. Replays are available at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04, and on podcast through www.sonibyte.com. Have a question or comment. E-mail it to simonapple04@yahoo.com.

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