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Tech Industry

Media moguls stand by TV

Time Warner's Turner and Viacom's Redstone downplay the Net, saying TV's still where it's at.

NEW YORK--Although many technology and entertainment executives are drawn by the lure of making money from the Internet, two media icons today downplayed the Net's importance.

Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner and Viacom chief executive Sumner Redstone, speaking at a conference here dubbed "The New Era of Content and Communication," instead said television and movies will continue to dominate in entertainment.

"I think the industry is going to remain basically the same," said Redstone. "The Internet is going to play a more prominent role, but 80 percent of the people will still be watching TV, going to movies and renting videos for three bucks," he said, referring to his company's reach with Paramount Pictures, a major movie studio, and Blockbuster Video, a national video rental chain.

Turner said he was aware of the work his company was doing on the Internet, yet added he wasn't involved in any strategic decision-making. Commenting that he has shed some responsibilities since Time Warner acquired Turner Broadcasting Systems in 1995, he quipped, "I have a little less say and a lot more money."

Ted Turner
Ted Turner
"What's so funny about that?" he asked as his audience, comprised mainly of executives from media and technology companies, burst into laughter. Turner added that he now spends more time on his ranch collecting garbage.

Owning an extensive library of classic films and cartoons is what's important, Turner said. "I feel most comfortable owning . . . Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Gone With the Wind," he said. "At the end of the day, it's the safest position to be in the media field.

"There's lots of conduits, lots of ways you can get long-distance telephone service, but there's only one Gone With the Wind and only one Casablanca," he added.

Redstone termed the Internet just another distribution system, and said "people don't watch distribution systems, they watch what's on it."

Like Turner, Redstone agreed that the name of the game is copyright ownership, and will separate the winners from the losers.

"I coined the phrase software is king, and software is king," he added. Whether the means of distribution is the Internet or television, the competitive edge will go to those who have "the ability to get [content] create it, package it, and distribute it all over the world."

The conference was presented by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world's largest professional services organizations, and BusinessWeek.