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Cable Show ’08: Cablers Reject All-Free Content

New Orleans -- When a tech-industry speaker on Monday’s The Cable Show ’08 general session here said media will be forced to give away content because the Web is killing existing business models, other panelists responded, “Not so fast, my friend.”

“Our goal is to get paid everywhere,” countered BET Networks president and CEO Debra Lee. She said that in instances when the Viacom-owned cable network does give out bits of free content, the giveaway is designed to drive consumer traffic back to BET basic TV channels.

“I wouldn’t be too quick to give away [professionally-produced content] for free” simply because the Internet has loads of freebie user-generated content, said George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks. “I think we deliver value and I think we need to keep that dual stream going” of basic TV networks collecting from both advertising and carriage fees.

Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt believes the cable industry will develop business models that consumers will embrace but that aren’t totally free, such as providing unlimited access for an upfront flat fee (that is the basis of today’s subscription-video-on-demand offer to consumers).

Sun Microsystems chairman Scott McNealy started the whole exchange when noting that computer programmers in China today build custom software on a foundation of software they got free, which he feels that trend will engulf media.

“So on your platform, you have to at least match the price of free,” he said. But he noted that free content can be paired with revenue-generating vehicles, such as selling hardware.

Media-industry dissenters said calling for an all-free philosophy is too simplistic because, for example, the content of an entertainment brand will get divided up for numerous media platforms and each has different economic relationships to consumers.

“We are not interested in just making one kind of content and pushing it out to everyone,” MTV Networks chairman and CEO Judy McGrath said. “That doesn’t suit mobile where people want to play a game,” for example.

But “controlling the material online is a tough issue,” conceded Neil Smit, president and CEO of cabler Charter Communications.

For more on The Cable Show ’08, click here.