An interview with Comcast's CEO Brian Roberts in today's WSJ has an instantly classic quote that will no doubt be making the rounds. In response to the interview question, "Do you feel pressure from the growing number of deals Netflix Inc. is striking with content owners, including, recently, CBS?" Roberts responded, "What used to be called 'reruns' on television is now called Netflix." Ouch!
Of course, Roberts, and other pay-TV executives, have taken great pains to assert that new over-the-top services aren't competing with their core video subscription services. Those assertions came under fire last year as the pay-TV industry lost subscribers for the 2nd and 3rd quarters, leading to wildly over-hyped predictions of cord-cutting, which have abated as 4th quarter subscriber losses improved. Still, there's no denying that Netflix, which added almost 8 million subscribers in 2010 to surpass 20 million, has a lot of momentum and eventually could be viewed as part of pay-TV substitute package. Come early April, when Q1 '11 results are released and Netflix almost certainly edges out Comcast to be the largest video subscription service in the U.S., the Netflix luster will only grow further.
Still, Roberts' point is mostly accurate. When it comes to its TV streaming deals, a large portion of Netflix's library is for library content. Subscribers don't seem to mind though, which speaks to the point that for many on-demand viewers, watching entertainment has no real recency requirement. I can attest to this; my wife and I have watched "Friday Night Lights," "Entourage" and "Bones" on Netflix, and it hasn't mattered to us at all that the early episodes are 5 years old (the only real issue is once we're caught up we have to wait for streaming or DVD release to keep watching). Netflix has also mitigated the library issue by having movies from Starz, Epix and others that are relatively recent releases. Then of course there's the lower subscriber expectations - for around $10/mo people know they're not going to get everything, but there's still a lot of choice.
Regardless of how the video services competition unfolds, the good news for Comcast and other big broadband ISPs is that Netflix and other OTT players rely on robust broadband connections to make their services viable. As Netflix's content head Ted Sarandos told me when I interviewed him at NATPE last month, consumers don't ask for speedier broadband connections to read their email, it's all about watching video. As streaming video continues to surge, all broadband ISPs stand to benefit.
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