Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Jeff Bewkes Renames Netflix: It’s Not the Albanian Army, It’s a Flying Hamburger

A year ago, when Netflix stock was soaring and lots of smart people thought the company could upend the cable industry, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes went out of his way to diminish the video service: The “Albanian Army,” he famously called it.

And if you didn’t understand that one, he offered another metaphor: A “200-pound chimp.”

In the following months, Bewkes cut back on his rhetoric, which may or may not have had anything to do with a lucrative deal to sell reruns of “Gossip Girl” to Netflix. But now that deal has been inked, Netflix stock has been crushed and lots of smart people think the video service may be on a permanent spiral.

So here’s Bewkes again, damning his new partners with very faint praise, this time in the Financial Times instead of the New York Times: Netflix and similar services (read: Hulu and Amazon, for now) can’t get the best stuff anymore, he says, and are stuck showing “archival content that nobody would want in Blockbuster.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Bewkes adds. “It can do certain things and not other things. It can fly, it’s not a submarine. Don’t turn a hamburger into a cow.”

And that is how a pro mixes metaphors and backhanded compliments.

Again, remember that the real purpose of this stuff isn’t to hurt Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’s feelings — Hastings can probably take it — but to make Time Warner shareholders feel better about the company’s cable holdings. Because Time Warner’s cable channels — like TBS and TNT, and its HBO premium channel — are absolutely competing with Netflix for viewer time and dollars, no matter how much either company tries to insist otherwise.

Does this sort of semi-smack-talk entertain you? (It’s okay to admit it. Me, too.) Then you’ll want to check back on Tuesday: Both Bewkes and Hastings are scheduled to present that day at the annual UBS Media/Telecom conference. I’ll be there to record the slings and arrows, and I’ll report back.

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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