Cable Network Chiefs Slam Netflix, Amazon: ‘We Have A Better Product’

NCTA 2014: Network and cable provider heads agree that subscriber authentication stands in the way of expanded mobile and online access

A+E Networks President & CEO Nancy Dubuc, TBS CEO John Martin, ESPN President John Skipper

The heads of ESPN, A+E Networks, and TBS had some strong words for upstart content providers like Netflix, Amazon, and Yahoo.

“We have a better product than they do,” ESPN President John Skipper said at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual Cable Show on Tuesday.

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“We have a better product with more value that is cheaper on a per hour basis than those companies,” he added. “[But] we’re allowing them in some ways to set the tone of the conversation.”

Skipper, who is also Co-Chairman of Disney Media Networks, called out in particular Yahoo’s announcement Monday that it ordered two new comedy series from television mainstays Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks”) and Mike Tollin (“Smallville,” “One Tree Hill”), bristling at the idea that the online company and others like it were setting themselves up as alternatives to cable.

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Nancy Dubuc, President and CEO of A+E Networks, agreed that the content on cable was superior, but said that viewers do not face an either-or situation between cable and over-the-top platforms.

“The same consumers use both,” Dubuc said.

But she said that Netflix and Amazon don’t play the same game as cable.

The streaming services can tout their popularity based on total number of subscribers, but neither reports the actual number of viewers for any of its original series – unlike cable and broadcast television networks. The latter rely on regularly-reported Nielsen data to price ads and promote their products.

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“We’d all like to be in the business where we don’t have to report our numbers too,” Debuc said. “You’re dealing with a Netflix and an Amazon that don’t have to report their viewership.”

“They’re not sharing those numbers, so how do you work with a creative entity to renegotiate future seasons, when nobody has metrics?” she said, adding that the competition for talent and content is off kilter between cable and new media.

The panel acknowledged that one of the major barriers to cable networks penetrating deeper in to the mobile and over-the-top space is authentication. When a network offers an on-demand channel on Roku, or an app on iPhone or Android, viewers must log in through their cable provider to verify that they do, in fact, pay for the service.

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HBOGo is a prime example – but not every cable provider allows access to the online service.

“If there’s a call to action in this convention or gathering, I think it’s this. For programmers and distributors to work together,” TBS CEO John Martin said.

“Authenticated content is a barrier to usage,” he added.

Rob Marcus, Chairman & CEO of Time Warner Cable, agreed that the process needs improvement but defended cable providers’ practice of requiring authentication.

“I agree that the process of authentication needs to be even easier, but the early returns are quite good when you think about the fact that this way of viewing video didn’t even exist a few years ago,” Marcus said.