In Miami, heavyweights debate future of Internet TV


The television industry’s annual marketplace and convention brought out Mark Cuban, Larry King and others keen to discuss Internet TV — but uncertain of its future.

Mark Cuban, who made his first billion dollars on the Internet, said it’s no match for television. And Larry King, who turned himself into a millionaire worldwide celebrity on television, said the Internet is the future of television and practically everything else.

So it went Monday at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) kicked off its 50th convention. More than 5,000 people from 60 countries flocked into the meeting, one of the largest TV marketplaces in the world.

Buying and selling shows has always been the lifeblood of NATPE conventions, and the showroom floor echoed with every language from Turkish to Cantonese Monday as producers hawked their video wares to cable networks and broadcast chains.

But the convention’s buzz wasn’t about stuff like Arsenio Hall’s new syndicated talk show. Instead, everybody wanted to talk about what the industry terms “disruption” – the growing pressure on television’s economics from the Internet, where an increasing number of viewers are watching their shows without wading through what they regard as a wasteland of commercials or the highway banditry of cable fees.

Most of the convention’s dozens of speeches and panel discussions had titles like Will Disruption Choke Television Business Models? and Media Evolution or Revolution?

Nobody seemed to have the answers – or, rather, almost everybody had answers, but none of them seemed to match. And nobody was more mismatched than Cuban and King, who appeared in separate sessions.

Cuban, who owns everything from a movie-theater chain to a pro basketball team – and, somewhere in between, the cable network AXS TV – made his first fortune by putting radio sportscasts on the Internet.

But, he told the convention, television remains the best bet for watching anything on a screen. “The Internet is designed for everything but video,” Cuban said. “TV is designed for video.”

Television is simple to use and perfectly reliable, he argued, while Internet TV transmissions require a complex and often balky series of applications that are too much like work.

When his words provoked a murmur of disbelief or perhaps protest from the portion of the crowd representing companies that make money interfacing between TV and the Internet, Cuban switch to a tone of voice familiar to basketball referees who make calls against his Dallas Mavericks team.

“Does everybody have perfect wireless [Internet service] at home?” he shouted, getting a chorus of “No!!!” in return. “Does everybody’s TV work when they turn it on?” he continued, this time drawing a big “Yes!!!” punctuated by laughter.

The 79-year-old King’s newfound affection for the Internet is, if anything, more surprising than Cuban’s skepticism about it. In 2006, King bragged on his CNN show that he had never once logged onto the net – and then, the loathing in his voice palpable, asked: “What, do you punch little buttons and things?”

But King, who left CNN in 2010 after 25 years as the network’s ratings crashed, last year partnered with Mexican media magnate Carlos Slim to start up an Internet TV network, Ora TV. On Monday, he announced a new worldwide distribution deal for the network, which is spearheaded by King’s half-hour talk show.

King said the idea came from his 53-year-old wife, Shawn. “She’s younger and she’s open to it all,” he said, but added that the fascination with the Internet by his two children, ages 12 and 13, convinced him that future of news and entertainment is digital.

“Every successful person I’ve known took risks,” King said. “Don’t ever be afraid to roll the dice.”

If he could make a wish for just one guest for his Internet show, King said, it would be God. “Can you imagine the promos?” he asked,. “Tuesday night, God!” For aspiring journalists in the crowd who might beat him to the interview, he offered a tip.

“The first question I would ask is, ‘Did you have a son?’ Because if he said, ‘No,’ chaos…. Then he would answer ‘No, I have a daughter. Her name is Madonna.’ ”

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