Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Bob Pittman Smacks Online Video

Bob Pittman, the longtime media exec who led AOL at its peak (and left the company after its merger with Time Warner turned sour), recently gave an interesting interview in which he takes a very counter view to the current craze around online video.


Of the explosion in the sector–every report and poll shows a giant leap in online video watching by consumers–Pittman (pictured here) is not so sanguine in a Q&A he did with VideoNuze that was published yesterday in advance of the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas next week.

(FYI, I will be there to appear at a panel on Wednesday with execs like former Disney head Michael Eisner, along with others, aptly called “Possibilities and Perils of Internet TV.”)

Of online video, Pittman focuses on those perils and notes that short-form Web fare is not really a big deal, however temporarily popular some of it can become.

“So we have to be careful not to talk about fringe uses as if they’re going to be major uses,” said Pittman. “But I don’t think broadband is competitive with TV, putting TV shows on the Internet is nice, but you’re talking about small audiences.”

Currently heading a New York-based investment firm called the Pilot Group, Pittman (who also co-founded and ran MTV Networks) is more disposed toward broadcast networks. Pilot has been buying broadcast, of course, in smaller markets.

Said Pittman (whose salesguy smoothness–his nickname was “Bob Pitchman”–I realized I really missed by reading the interview):

“Broadcast stations are greatly unappreciated. TV is America’s hobby. Look at any category, the biggest is always the most important. So we want to invest in a place where most people are. It is a fantastic advertising medium. There’s no substitute for TV advertising. It works like nothing else. It’s still wildly cheap–for the most part it’s a $7 to $8 CPM–compared with newspapers and magazines, which are $25 to $30, and it outperforms by every measurement–reach, time spent, effectiveness. It’s still wildly underpriced.”

I am not so sure I agree with Pittman, whom I got to know well when covering AOL and also writing two books on the company.

But he does have a point about how hard it is to watch quality online video and the need to get Web content to the television.

Said Pittman: “I think it’s going to be pretty hard to get something in the home that’s easier to use than pushing a button on my TV set that I already know how to do and I’m set up to do. To start connecting a box and moving stuff around, then my rule of thumb is about 10% of the population will adopt new technology because it’s cool and neat, but it will be hard to get past that threshold.”

More strongly than any TV exec I have talked to of late, who are mostly in a serious state of depression over declining viewership, Pittman insists that the Web is not hurting television.

“People keep talking about Internet as if it’s competing with TV. But what the Internet has really done is replace print–things like yellow pages, newspapers and traditional research books. It’s also replaced communications–phone calls, voice mail,” Pittman said. “So when you hear these stories about the Internet replacing TV, I think they’ve got it all wrong.”

Well, he’s got it all wrong, of course–it isn’t replacing it apples for apples. But it is replacing it in terms of time and attention of consumers, especially young people, which is exactly the same thing.

Nonetheless, it’s good to hear from the always pugnacious Pitchman.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald