Peter Kafka

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Netflix and Hulu Help Out Viacom, Too. Next Up: Apple? Amazon? Everyone?

Just like its corporate sibling CBS, Viacom posted an excellent quarter. And like CBS, Viacom says that digital dollars contributed to that performance, and promised more on the way.

CEO Philippe Dauman said that a “substantial bump” in licensing revenue generated last quarter by the company’s TV shows came from “new and renewed digital distribution agreements” — i.e., deals with services like Netflix and Hulu.

The size of the bump may not be that big: BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield did some quick math and figured that new digital dollars added up to $70 million this quarter. That’s a tiny fraction of the overall $2.4 billion Viacom’s cable networks generated in the same time period.

But digital dollars are exceptionally profitable — Dauman said the margin on those deals was upward of 75 percent. And Dauman and his lieutenants took great pains to stress that they’d be signing up new digital pacts, both in and outside the U.S.

Unlike CBS CEO Les Moonves, who listed Apple, Microsoft and Google, among others, as potential buyers, Dauman was a little more circumspect when it came to new prospects — the only one he cited by name was LoveFilm, the “Netflix of Europe” that Amazon owns.

But he also suggested that some of the digital deals would come from cable and satellite companies who are already paying him to show stuff like “The Daily Show” and “Jersey Shore” on analog TV, but would want more digital rights. Both the Dish Network and DirecTV are obvious candidates there.

Again, this is the best-case digital scenario for the TV guys — the one where the Internet doesn’t eat into their business, but supplies it with new streams of easy money. It’s hard to believe it will stay that simple — a lot of this depends on customers deciding that it’s easier to pay for content than grabbing it for free off the Web – but right now it’s a pretty good place to be.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work