We’ll see whether the entertainment industry can gin up some big news at this week’s 2012 International CES for its UltraViolet streaming initiative — such as an alliance with a major retailer. But for now, this is what we’ve got: Panasonic will load its Viera Connect TV sets and Blu-ray players with connections to Warner Bros’ Flixster. The entertainment company wants its Web destination to become the chief gateway for consumers to stream movies after they buy discs that include UltraViolet access rights. Warner says that there’ve been 50M downloads of the Flixster app for Android, Blackberry and iPad devices.
Everyone thinks of TV Everywhere as a mobile service, enabling pay TV subscribers to stream shows to Internet devices. But Time Warner CFO John Martin told the Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference that the initiative may have its biggest impact in the living room. TV Everywhere will create “an enormous amount of on-demand programming, and that could radically change the way people with Web-connected TV sets access their favorite shows. Time Warner has been promoting just such a shift based on the theory that it will help TV’s most popular channels and programs. It has signed TV Everywhere deals for its Turner channels — including TBS, TNT, and CNN — and for its HBO GO application. “HBO GO is now available to virtually everyone and Turner isn’t far behind,” Martin says. He adds that “a lot of progress is going to be made over the next 12 months” as viewers figure out what they can do with TV Everywhere. “This is all happening quickly. … We’re on the cusp of seeing the television viewing experience get dramatically better.”
There are still bumps along the way. Time Warner saw a slowdown in scatter market ad sales in 4Q; expectations of mid-single-digit growth ”may be aspirational.” But Martin is “cautiously optimistic” about the current quarter based on low cancellations, and ads for NBA games selling at “very attractive rates.” Home video sales also were weak at year end with 4Q results that “look more challenged” than 3Q. Time Warner expects help from the UltraViolet initiative, which makes it possible for DVD buyers to also access movies remotely. The company bought a website, Flixster, to serve as a gateway for consumers. ”The product is not where we want it to be, but someone has to take a leadership position,” Martin says.
Time Warner provided a little more insight today into how it will use Flixster to fend off competition from Netflix. The movie-listing and info service that Time Warner bought earlier this month will provide a user-friendly interface for people who want to manage their home video collections in the digital cloud, the company’s CFO John Martin told an investor conference sponsored by Barclays Capital. Consumers will be able to “upload your existing physical DVDs, have the ability access them across multiple devices anywhere you want, have the ability to manage your collections with social aspects as well, go in, have friends see what movie collections they have, (and) see who has been watching those films,” he says. Martin called it “a very big idea” that Time Warner will describe more fully soon. The initiative comes as Martin says Warner Bros expects 2011 to be an “all-time record year.” But the big driver will be television, which accounts for “roughly half of the profits.” Although Warner Bros earns “in excess of our cost of capital in the film business,” television is “off the chart in terms of returns.” Broadcasters picked up 27 series from Warner Bros for this fall — including 12 new ones. The total is one more than last year and enables Warner Bros to boast that it’s still the No. 1 supplier of TV shows.