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Media

Viacom is in 'a very dangerous moment,' said Charter CEO

Amid pressures in the media industry, companies like Viacom may need to ramp up curation efforts, Tom Rutledge, president and CEO of rival Charter Communications, said on Thursday.

"Viacom is in a position where it has relatively expensive content — it has lots of it — and it hasn't been curating it very well," Rutledge said. "It may not have the stickiness that most groups do. They're going to have to rebuild that. So they're in a dangerous moment."

But data and curation have been factors in HBO's success, Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO of HBO, said.

Plepler and Rutledge spoke from the DealBook Conference in New York City, moderated by The New York Times columnist and CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin, and hosted by the editors of the Times.

"Over 70 percent of our viewing is theatrical movies," Plepler said. "If you can understand that a consumer likes a sci-fi genre or comedy genre … to the extent that you can go out to that consumer and say, 'Here's what's coming,' or, 'Let us introduce you to "Westworld,"' that is tremendously effective in cutting churn and in stickiness, keeping that subscriber with us for an extended amount of time."

While the advent of online viewing has given HBO access to data on viewer preferences, Plepler said that data is not used by authors and producers to guide the storylines of their content.

Rather, it helps HBO differentiate its brand and delight consumers through curation — and the popularity of the brand attracts storytellers.

"We're as good as the people who come in to work with us. The magic of talent is out there. Our job is to get it in our doors," Plepler said. "Every Friday there's something on our desk that we didn't know about Monday. That's one of the exciting privileges of being in my chair."

Under Plepler's leadership, HBO has grown the most popular subscription video-on-demand products, HBO on Demand, Cinemax on Demand, HBO GO and MAX GO. Plepler has also reigned over hits like "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver," "True Detective" and "Game of Thrones." HBO, in particular, has embraced new technologies, partnering with Apple to reach wireless customers.

But while over-the-top and on-demand content is important, bundles will stick around, because they are the most efficient ways to buy and sell content, Plepler and Rutledge said. Rutledge said that most TV viewing is still linear.

"We're not expecting that people are going to watch 'Game of Thrones' or 'Westworld' on phones, but you can catch up on 'John Oliver,'" Rutledge said. He added: "We are selling lots of cable. We're growing our premium service business … .we really have a lot of confidence that all of our products can continue to grow."

Charter merged with Time Warner Cable to become one of the nation's largest cable operators.

HBO's parent company, Time Warner, recently agreed to be acquired by AT&T, a merger that would give HBO exposure to AT&T's wireless customers. The merger has drawn scrutiny from President-elect Donald Trump, who said in October that the proposal was an example of a "power structure" that was rigged against him and voters.

— Reuters contributed to this report.

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