Time Warner CEO Bewkes defends UltraViolet launch, pumps digital
Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes defended last year's shaky public debut of the digital movie technology UltraViolet, led by his company's studio Warner Bros., claiming it was imperative to launch early rather than wait for further improvements.
"You get into this debate, 'Should you wait until it's perfect?' " he said at a Deutsche Bank-sponsored media and telecommunications conference in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. "The reason we didn't is consumers are used to seeing these new products improve over time. They know version 3.0 is going to be better than 1.0."
UltraViolet allows people who buy compatible DVDs and Blu-ray discs to also get a copy of a movie stored online that they can access on compatible Internet-connected devices. Warner and other studios are counting on the new technology to encourage people to keep buying movies, instead of renting or illegally pirating them, in the digital age.
"Some have speculated ... consumers don't want to own movies in a digital environment," Bewkes said. "We don't think that's right. One of the biggest problems is that while it's easy to rent a movie and watch it on your TV, until now it has not been easy to buy a movie digitally, manage a digital collection and watch it on the device of your choosing."
More than 1 million people have registered to use UltraViolet accounts, according a recent report on PaidContent. However, the UltraViolet initiative, which includes most Hollywood studios, suffered a wave of bad publicity when it launched this past fall. Consumers complained about cumbersome user restrictions and a complicated registration process.
Warner is the only studio that includes UltraViolet copies with every disc it sells. Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures include it only with select films. 20th Century Fox isn't expected to jump on board until later this year, while Walt Disney Pictures is not part of the UV consortium.
At the conference, which is attended by media business investors, Bewkes urged his audience to pressure other entertainment companies to more aggressively support UltraViolet. "If we don't" he said, "we run the real risk of habituating consumers to rental when in fact they may prefer to own and build collections of movies."
Studios make significantly larger profits from movie sales than rentals.
Bewkes also urged attendees to pressure other media companies to put more television content online as part of TV Everywhere, which lets cable subscribers watch channels on digital devices. Warner has aggressively supported that initiative, making available more than 1,000 hours of content from its cable channels, including TNT and TBS, as well as more than 1,600 hours for the similar HBO Go.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes. Credit: Brendan Hoffman / Bloomber