Cable Operators

Dressler: Exclusivity Is Key

11/18/2004 9:55 AM Eastern

New York -- With phone companies re-entering the video business, distributors may have to ante up and pay extra to get exclusive content so that they can compete, Time Warner Cable’s programming chief said Thursday.

“At some point, when somebody comes up with a new [programming] idea, somebody is going to step up and say, ‘I’ll pay you a premium to have that exclusively,’” Time Warner Cable executive vice president of programming Fred Dressler said during a panel at the International Radio and Television Society Foundation’s annual Faculty/Industry Seminar here.

Dressler suggested that this exclusive content may provide the key -- and the edge -- for distributors to win out in an increasingly cutthroat environment.

“Right now, everybody carries the same thing that everybody else does, and we’re going to have to move more and more into exclusive product that differentiates,” he said. “In New York, that was largely what was behind the development of New York 1 News.”

Dressler shared the dais with panelists who included Sean Bratches, president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Networks, and TiVo Inc. president Martin Yudkovitz.

During the panel, “Visions of the Future,” moderator Jack Myers, CEO of The Jack Myers Report, asked Dressler what he thought about SBC Communications Inc.’s venture into the video-programming business.

“Well, there’s no stopping the competition,” Dressler said. “It started with satellite. This is a natural evolution. The telephone guys have tried before. I think they will be more successful this time, and everybody will be impacted as a result.”

That’s when Dressler made his pitch for exclusive rights to programming.

“There will have to be some level of exclusivity -- not only unique technological differences between the different services, but there’s going to have to be differentiation of content,” he said. “This is the only industry that I’m aware of where cable TV -- maybe cable and satellite -- doesn’t have exclusivity.”

He added, “News is a commodity, but everybody has got their own newspapers, everybody’s got their own commentators. Television stations, obviously, all have their own proprietary product.”

But Bratches, the programmer on the panel, didn’t seem very receptive to the notion.

“Our perspective at The Walt Disney Co. is that we want to serve our fans wherever fans want to be served,” he said. “Historically, our position has been to be platform-agnostic. It has served our interest and served consumer interests.”

The panel also addressed the impact of TiVo and digital-video recorders on traditional advertising, saying that it’s not the sector’s death knell.

“I’m not sure that the 30-second spot, the traditional advertising model, is dead, per se,” Bratches said. “I’m not ready to put a nail in the coffin of traditional advertising.”

However, he did mention several ways that Disney is experimenting with new kinds of advertising, such as short segments aired during ESPN’s SportsCenter that include product placements.

Yudkovitz -- who only briefly made reference to TiVo’s new plan to run ad tags when viewers fast-forward during commercials -- agreed with Bratches about traditional spots.

“The 30-second [spot] isn’t going to die,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that the model was broken before TiVo got there … The fact is that way before DVRs, people were avoiding commercials, primarily with remote controls. Even early technology, like the bathroom and the refrigerator, [were ways of] avoidance.”