Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

On a Clear Day, You Can See Through Viacom's Opaque Windows

One step forward, several leaps back–at least for consumers when it comes to big entertainment conglomerates.

At the cable show in Las Vegas last week, I was actually somewhat surprised when Comcast COO Stephen Burke said the cable giant was talking to interested studios with the aim of showing movies on cable premium-priced ($30 to $50), on-demand service on the same day as they were released in theaters.

Oh joyous day–a nod to the changing trends related to audience viewing habits, which include the hypergrowth of big home-theater setups, part of a general desire to consume their entertainment any way they like.

A few big theater chains freaked, naturally, saying they would not play films that appeared at the same time as they were released to homes. An empty threat, of course, because like everyone, they need a flow of product to their theaters and would fold at the first blockbuster they did not feature.

In any case, I don’t pay that much attention to the complaints of companies that have for years abused their customers with sticky and filthy theaters, surly staff, increasingly poor viewing experiences and ever higher prices.


So it was hard not to be disheartened when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman agreed with this antiquated practice yesterday, declaring at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York that such an offering was a long time coming.

The media giant owns the major Hollywood studio Paramount, as well as MTV and a range of other huge media properties, so its actions matter in this time of rapid change. Or, more to the point when it comes to Viacom, non-change.

“We need to be very careful about changing windows,” said Dauman, according to a Reuters report. “Windows have been a very important part of the success of our company and our industry. We do not want to tread too heavily on a system that works so well.”

Actually, he left out a few words at the end–what he doubtless meant to say: a system that works so well for the media conglomerates, consumers be damned. It is this kind of attitude that must change at the top of big media companies and is too slow in coming. At some point, one of the major studios is going to give in to the trend toward multiple and simultaneous distribution systems for all content, and it will all be over.

Or the change could come from other powers in the entertainment industry. As I have written in this post, we’re having famed director George Lucas at our D conference in two weeks. I am eager to ask him why he doesn’t release the next “Star Wars” movies (he mentioned he might do more recently) to homes and theaters and even via DVDs at the same time. A move like this from an icon and hit-maker such as Lucas would be groundbreaking.

I will actually also be interviewing Dauman onstage at D and am looking forward to talking to him about this, as well as the $1 billion lawsuit Viacom is waging against another disrupter (and, according to Viacom, a copyright violator), YouTube.

It might be good to start the interview with this quote about the movie-release issue by Comcast’s Burke (you can see his appearance at D here in the gallery section for D4 from 2006):

But at the end of the day, it’s about giving consumers what they want. Anybody who doesn’t do that is going to get left behind.”


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