In Depth

Disney's Iger Willing to Put Cable Networks Online for Subscribers

Disney CEO Bob Iger said he's “open to exploring” running entire cable networks online if it was possible to authenticate that users were subscribers.

Speaking at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show in Washington Thursday morning, Mr. Iger said, “With authentication in place, streaming full networks online would be an interesting and potentially compelling feature for consumers.”

Mr. Iger said he prefers the option of putting everything online under the right conditions to trying to keep all content off the Web.

“Preventing people from watching any shows online unless they subscribe to some multichannel service could be viewed as both anti-consumer and anti-technology, and would be something we would find difficult to embrace,” he said.

Speaking to a group of cable executives, Mr. Iger stressed the importance of cable to Disney.

“Even in this bear market, we remain bullish on the prospects for cable television both as a platform and an industry,” he said. “We continue to invest heavily in programming to strengthen our existing brands, like ESPN, Disney Channel and ABC Family, and to launch new ones where we see opportunity, like Disney XD.”

But he also noted that Disney was the first media company to make its programming available digitally via iTunes and on ABC.com.

“I wanted to challenge the status quo,” he said. “Businesses not willing to challenge the status quo often find themselves marginalized or passed by when new competitors enter the market, or new business models emerge."

Mr. Iger said Disney has learned a lot since opening the digital spigot.

Consumers who stream ABC shows consume more TV than the average person and are more likely to have high-definition TV sets and use on-demand and other premium services.

“The fact is people are watching more TV than ever before—even as their ability to watch programming on other devices has increased dramatically,” he said.

The company also sees digital as a way to diversify its revenue streams, but Mr. Iger conceded that finding a new business model has proved elusive so far.

In the long run, he said, “Companies that provide tangible value will be fairly compensated.”

Making content legally available on a “well-timed, fairly priced basis,” he said, also is an “important part of fighting piracy.”

He praised cable Internet service providers for new programs responding to users who are infringing on content copyrights.

“For many consumers, the simple act of forwarding infringement notices is all it takes to deter them from accessing stolen content and to turn them into revenue-generating customers,” he said.