HBO and Netflix have been engaged in a friendly rivalry for a number of months, as Netflix has begun to act more like a traditional network with original programming and HBO’s online platform, HBO Go, drawing speculation that it might soon be available directly to people who don’t subscribe to the premium cable channel.
The back-and-forth between the two companies even prompted Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to joke that HBO Programming President Michael Lombardo’s HBO Go password is “Netflix Bitch.”
During his appearance at TheGrill at Montage Beverly Hills on Monday, Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes danced around the rivarly, saying that he didn’t wish he owned Netflix, because Time Warner already has its own equivalent.
“We own a Netflix; we own HBO,” Bewkes said, when asked by TheWrap‘s editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman whether he wished he owned Netflix. “HBO the company is fantastic and it makes close to $2 billion a year in earnings.”
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Bewkes did, however, allow that Netflix has a very admirable data-mining ability — an ability that led to signing a four-picture production deal with Adam Sandler earlier this month. The streaming video service determined that Sandler’s films consistently rank among the most-viewed by Netflix members in the U.S. and across its global territories.
“I think they’ve done a great job with that,” Bewkes said. “That’s the advantage of using the new distribution system of broadband, because you can be in direct connection with who’s watching, in terms of what they’re doing.”
Traditional media, on the other hand, is at a disadvantage in that regard, Bewkes said.
“The cable operators that are distributing the signal have the data or the means to find out what you were doing. The networks did not. If you’re delivering over broadband, if a viewer is connected to your hosting site, then whether you’re Netflix or HBO or TNT, you could have that information,” Bewkes said. “That gets into a sensitive issue, because the distributors — DirecTV, Comcast, et cetera — don’t want the networks to have the names of who the people are who are watching their stuff.”
So how does, say, a Time Warner get into that game?
“Over time, what you would want is to have some way to share data with the distributors, or to have direct connections to your viewers,” Bewkes offered, adding that such a prospect is “a very complicated thing.”
“In order to get that data, you’d have to have direct distribution,” Bewkes added.