Dressler: Why Pay? Download’s Free

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Atlanta -- Time Warner Cable’s programming chief questioned why The Walt Disney Co. expects to be paid retransmission consent for its ABC stations when it will be giving away hit primetime content from those broadcast outlets over a company Web site.

Fred Dressler, Time Warner’s executive vice president of programming, made his remarks during a panel Tuesday at the National Show when he was asked his reaction to Disney’s plan to offer four its its ABC hits, such as Lost, free on the network’s Web site (www.abc.com) as part of a two-month experiment.

“My reaction is quizzical, more than anything,” Dressler said, noting that the Disney-ABC Television Group “is too smart and too thoughtful to just throw something out there without thinking of the impact that it was going to have on their largest distributors.”

Dressler, during a panel titled “New Markets, New Networks: Programmers Make Their Pitch,” added that the test, announced Monday, poses a number of questions relating to ABC’s broadcast content.

“It seems that ABC is sort of acknowledging that they offer their content free over the air and now they’re going to offer it free over the Internet, so why their expectations are that they would be compensated for retransmission consent is a little quizzical,” Dressler said.

He also pointed out that Disney will also be offering some of its cable-network programming, like shows from Disney Channel, free on the Web. Dressler then questioned what Disney’s expectations would be in terms of compensation from cable operators who carry that same programming.

Panelist Matt Bond, executive vice president of content acquisition for Comcast Corp., said he wasn’t surprised that video content was finding its way onto the Internet. What was unusual in the Disney test is that its four shows, like Lost and Alias, would be offered for free on the Web, according to Bond.

“Certain content traditionally in TV has been free, other has been paid,” he said. “And to the extent that this is a new business model, where content is going to move out of the pay category to the free category, I think it’s something to watch.”

Programmer panelist Sean Bratches, executive vice president of affiliate sales and markeing for ESPN Inc., argued that Disney’s efforts can help support the “broadband pipe” for cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner.

“Directionally, this is something that supports that side of their multimedia business,” Bratches said. “This is a test that The Walt Disney Co. is conducting, and we’re going to see how this goes. We continue to look to serve our fans, and we really think this is additive to the core business.”

During the panel Lindsay Gardner, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Fox Cable Networks Group, said unit typically has eight to 10 ideas under consideration for new networks, and that a premium service is always in that group.

However, Gardner said that “launching a premium service or seeking to buy a premium service is a very big bet.”

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