True Blood on HBO Could Be Offered Online

March 3, 2009 by  

Jeff Bewkes - CEO of Time Warner

Jeff Bewkes - CEO of Time Warner

True Blood on HBO could be offered online if Jeff Bewkes has his way. The CEO of Time Warner has called for the creation of a service called ‘TV Everywhere’ which would allow subscribers to view episodes of their favorite series on the internet. The programs would be ad-supported bringing a small amount of additional revenue and allowing people who already subscribe to the service to access these episodes anywhere they get an internet connection. This might increase customer retention times at wifi hot spots such as Starbuck’s and Barnes and Noble as they settle in to watch an hour of their favorite vampire show. “It’s a natural extension of the existing business model,” Bewkes told Advertising Age. From the Advertising Age article:

“At the end of the day, the cable operators are going to be fine because they will charge for the service they provide, which is access to the ones and the zeroes whether that service takes the form of linear video or broadband,” said Bernstein Research cable analyst Craig Moffett. The cable networks, however, don’t get any subscription revenue from broadband viewers. And if they put their content online directly, they risk weakening their hand when they negotiate their next round of carriage deals with operators. ” According to Bewkes “The goal is to keep households from dumping pay-TV subscriptions, while expanding a nascent business, which benefits from scale.”

But there are many problems ahead before ‘TV Everywhere’ can evolve into a realistic business model. Most networks and cable companies would have to be onboard for one. Hulu, a currently existing online TV venue could act as the model but there are potentially competing models such as Comcast’s “On Demand Online”. One example of why the industry as a whole is hesitant to embrace the idea is what’s happening recently with newspapers. They went online and now several major papers have had to shutter their doors. Is the problem that the content was free or that they didn’t have a good enough control of information and thus ad revenue? Also, will “TV Everywhere” attract enough ad dollars to be viable? Does such a move threaten the industry as it now stands? To try to bolster support for the idea, Time Warner provided HBO shows for free in a small Wisconsin study earlier. HBO wants to make it’s shows as available as possible to those subscribed to it’s services and indeed this kind of move might eventually free HBO from the maws of the cable and satellite providers that it currently depends on. Eventually you might be able to subscribe to content you really want and drop all but basic TV cable subscription if you only watch a few channels. Trying to ensure that no one breaks away will no doubt be one of the sticking points that needs to be overcome.

Bewkes is known for prognosticating significant changes in programming but doesn’t have the track record to back it up. In 2006 Bewkes wanted cable companies to offer their entire network programming for free and ‘On Demand’ instead of only specific shows by 2007 in a speech to the NCTA. While on demand availability has increased somewhat there are still only a few primetime network shows available On Demand three years later. CBS for example offers 6 although you can view more than that if you want to watch on your computer. NBC offers 8 shows On Demand while ABC is still abstaining and other networks are about the same still offering a few shows On Demand but not their entire line-up.

During his stint at HBO it’s original programming really blossomed including introducing The Sopranos and Sex and the City. But when he decided to have AOL move to a free content platform, making money from advertising it did well in the beginning then slumped as ad revenue growth dropped off quickly.

“ is simply a less and less compelling place to promote brands and services,” Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield wrote in a research note.

Despite the obstacles which beset Bewkes plan and his mediocre track record when advocating big changes for the television industry True Blood may still be legally viewed online in the near future for a large portion of it’s viewing audience. Comcast, the largest cable company in the US currently, is moving ahead with it’s own plans for “On Demand Online” it’s likely that a good deal of the viewing audience will be able to access True Blood on the internet within the next year.


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