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Bewkes reasons for AT&T deal just don’t hold water

AT&T and Time Warner

Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner Inc’s CEO, gave his analysis of why the deal with AT&T is a good one for his company. Unfortunately, much of what he says just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Jeff Bewkes talked to CNBC on what he sees as the main advantages of being bought by AT&T. Here are three of his primary reasons the deal makes sense

It’s all about advertising

Jeff Bewkes Time Warner Inc.

Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner Inc.

“There’s going to be basically more effective advertising, so it won’t be as disruptive. You’ll have more efficiency there, and that means more of the cost of all the great programming that’s being made on TV can be borne by advertising. And it can be advertising that is useful to you rather than something you are not interested in.” Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner Inc.

The idea that targeting will increase revenue from advertising so it can shoulder more of the cost of programming is a radical one. It also seems to be swimming against the tide in the industry.

Consumers are weary of advertising, and that is part of the appeal of ad-free SVOD services. This has put pressure on Time Warner properties like TNT to reduce ad loads. For example, TNT cut the ads by as much as 50% in the drama Animal Kingdom. It was a big success, according to Kevin Reilly, TNT and TBS President. So much so that the networks will expand the program to all new original dramas in 2017.

The reduced ad load helped TNT secure double digit CPM gains in the upfronts this year. But it will need more than that to compensate for a 50% reduction in load. Mr. Bewkes will likely need ad targeting to fully compensate for fewer ads. There isn’t likely to be much left over to bear more of the cost of the content!

It’s all about competition

“If you look at last year, more than half of the growth in advertising in the United States went to two companies – Google and Facebook. And we need to increase competition for advertising across television, internet companies.”  Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner Inc.

Digital versus tv ad spend to 2020Undoubtedly, more competition for digital ad dollars would be good for everyone (except Google and Facebook.) This year will see US digital ad spending eclipse television ad spending for the first time, to reach $72B. By 2020, digital ad spending will increase 57% (to $113B) while TV advertising increases just 9%, to $78B. There’s no question Time Warner needs to find a way to tap in to the fast expanding digital ad market.

As well, much of the premium TV inventory remains locked up in ad-free services like HBO Now and Netflix. Expanding ad inventory in premium online TV may well begin to draw some of the ad revenue that goes by default to YouTube and Facebook.

Once again, Time Warner can achieve that, and more, just as effectively without being inside AT&T. TV Everywhere, of which Mr. Bewkes was a founding member, is doing a good job of attracting online video ad revenue already. According to Freewheel, in Q2 2016 68% of all long-form and live content ad views were delivered to apps that required pay TV authentication.

Time Warner is also just beginning to launch direct-to-consumer web services. Today it launched the ad-free FilmStruck, a new movie subscription service for film buffs. Presumably, more services are under construction that will rely on advertising.

It’s all about on-demand

“For years we have been trying at Time Warner to get all the networks on TV, not just ours but everybody’s, to be on demand. And we think this will enable us to do those things faster.”  Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner Inc.

The truth is, pretty much every channel (with the possible exception of sports channels) makes its content available on-demand somewhere that a viewer can get to. Most major channels have their own web presence, either through an app or browser, where full episodes can be viewed. Most shows are also available on pay TV VOD systems, on Hulu, clips are available on YouTube.

As to AT&T helping to get every channel’s content available on-demand. DirecTV certainly has the most clout, so presumably can negotiate the hardest with content providers to get on-demand rights. But owning Time Warner doesn’t help this one bit, and may make it harder. After all, Disney might be suspicious that Time Warner content is being given an advantage somehow.

Why it matters

Time Warner CEO gave three main reasons why joining with AT&T makes sense.

He said it would increase digital ad competition, increase ad funding of the content, and boost on-demand availability of content.

Joining with AT&T won’t help Time Warner in any of these areas.

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