Code/Media Conference

Peter Chernin on future of media, Twitter & AmEx

Peter Chernin
Getty Images for Malaria No More 2013

Peter Chernin was the consummate media mogul as president of News Corp., building the company's TV and film empire. Now he continues to produce traditional TV shows and movies, but he's betting big on premium digital video.

His failed bid for Hulu nearly two years ago brought his company into partnership with AT&T. Now the two companies, with a joint venture called Otter Media, are teaming up to tackle the future of digital video. And Chernin's own company, the Chernin Group, is looking to capitalize on the opportunity in content, across platforms.

Chernin confident in Dick Costolo
Chernin confident in Dick Costolo

"We are trying to build a digital TV player of scale. I think it's something of great interest to AT&T who has so many customers when you think about the huge amounts of video that are being consumed not only on their traditional assets," says Chernin.

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Chernin said the new video platforms challenging YouTube—from Facebook and Twitter, to Vimeo and Vessel—mark the beginning of a new golden age of digital video.

"Right now the YouTube platform is a more global platform than anything we have ever seen," says Chernin. But now he says, these new rivals have a shot. "I think they will certainly make in-roads.... I think it's a great thing for distribution. If you look at the media business, I think arguably everyone benefits."

Do all the new direct-to-consumer offerings announced in recent months—from SlingTV with ESPN and CNN, to HBO and Showtime—spell the end of the traditional TV bundle?

"That's sort of the $60 billion question," Chernin said. "I think you will begin to see it fraying, but I don't think the traditional biz is going away anytime soon. You will see people nip away at the edges of it … but the overall bundle has a fair amount of life in it."

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But where Chernin is investing most is in content that will hold value no matter what happens to the bundle. "I believe that the fastest-growing area of the biz is what I would call mid-tier premium digital, which is certainly what we're trying to focus on with Fullscreen [one of Otter Media's investments]. Movies in the 4-5 million range, TV shows in the $400,000 to $500,000 an episode, I think will be a huge opportunity going forward."

One business that won't be changing too fast, says Chernin, is traditional movies, despite the fact that he calls it a "very shaky business."

He doesn't see theatrical distribution going away, though he says the window between when big movies open in theaters and are available on demand will likely shrink to a four- to six-week window.

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In his first public comments on Twitter since joining its board on 2012, Chernin weighed in on CEO Dick Costolo, saying he has Chernin's full support. "Unequivocally. I think Dick is a really gifted CEO. I think Twitter is a really complicated company and I have enormous/full confidence in Dick."

He also said that the company's new video platform is promising, and that Wall Street's focus on Twitter's slower-growing, logged-in user numbers is misguided.

"I think it's one measurement of users. If you look at any other measurement—how widely Tweets are distributed, on what different platforms—their users have been growing significantly."

Chernin's also on the board of American Express. On the heels of mega retailer Costco's dropping AmEx as its exclusive credit card, he stressed that it was AmEx's decision, as well. "There was a negotiation in which AmEx declined to go any further in their bid. It's like people saying about their kid's school auction, 'I won the auction.' You didn't win the auction, you just spent more than anybody else, and I think management made a very smart decision vis a vis Costco."