Liberty Media CEO on future of television

John Malone tells a crowd at the D: All Things Digital event that some people may still call it TV five years from now, but it will have morphed considerably.

Liberty Media's John Malone says advertising is "insufficient" to fund much of the premium content people want to watch. Ina Fried/CNET

CARLSBAD, Calif.--Liberty Media CEO John Malone doesn't think his product is going way, but he acknowledged it sure is changing.

Asked by Walt Mossberg on Wednesday whether we will even be using the word television in a few years' time, he responded:

"Probably in five years old guys like me will still be calling it television," Malone said in a talk at the D: All Things Digital event here. But, he added, video will come in different forms, be a mix of live and recorded content, come from myriad sources and be shown on many devices.

"You are trying to evolve with the digital technologies," Malone said, noting cable companies are trying to push speeds upwards of 100 megabits per second into the home. "You are not betting that this smokestack will be able to survive."

He noted the economics are shifting in favor of a few big events as opposed to standard programming.

"It's stealing the oxygen from the room relative to the tonnage." This is putting tremendous pressure on broadcasters, he said.

Sports, he said, are still a big deal, pointing to DirecTV's recent deal to extend its NFL contract.

The problem, he said, is that advertising will be "insufficient" to fund the kind of programming people want. He noted that Hulu's advertising is a fraction of that needed to produce quality content.

"Clearly advertising has proven to be insufficient, particularly in cycles we go through, to create robust product creation and distribution," he said.

Mossberg pressed Malone on whether he had any advice to share on how companies that have given away their content, such as newspapers, can then charge later.

"That's the challenge," he said. Cable did it by tying the content in with a new means of transmission. Perhaps content creators could hitch themselves to a new type of wireless transmission.

Another question, he said, is whether there is room, in any medium, to fund local content. Malone said there are local advertisers today, but the future of that market is questionable.

"What is the role of localism?" Malone siad. "This is one of these scale issues. Does everything need be national or even global to scale?"

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