Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. worked together for two decades at Daily Variety. In this weekly Sunday column, two old friends get together and grind their axes on the movie business.
Bart: Like 7th grade boys staring in the mirror, corporate CEOs these days keep asking themselves, “Am I big enough?” What scares them is the prospect of becoming a takeover target, and there’s been a rush of takeover talk lately —Rupert Murdoch’s bid for Time Warner being the most dramatic. Size means safety in the corporate universe and Time Warner became vulnerable by ridding itself of Time Inc., AOL and Time Warner Cable — the latter becoming a target for Comcast. With giants like Google, Apple and Amazon looming, CEOs are scared they can’t measure up, but the folks who should really be frightened are the creatives and their audiences. Bigness means giant fees for bankers and profits for shareholders, but the impact of the monoliths is easy to read — a universe of corporate plodding, tentpoles and sequels.
Read More »
Rupert Murdoch’s $80B offer for Time Warner makes two things clear: The much anticipated round of content company merger mania is here — and likely will include Time Warner even though it rejected the proposal from Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. And virtually no deal idea is too big or outlandish. One major question at this point is whether a large digital company such as Google will seize the opportunity to buy a major content company. Giants such as Fox and Time Warner want to defend the pay TV status quo — the lucrative bundle that requires subscribers to buy channels they don’t watch. If they become more powerful, then it could slow efforts by Internet companies to claim a piece of the giant ad pie that goes to TV.
Content company stock prices today reflect their new popularity. In addition to Time Warner (+15.6% at mid-day) we see Discovery +6.6%, Viacom +4.3%, Lionsgate +3.7%, AMC Networks +3.4%, and Scripps Networks +3.4%. “The urgency to find a ‘dance partner” will increase across the sector,” Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger says. “Nobody wants to be the company that gets left out of the consolidation wave, and companies would rather control their own destinies.” What’s more, every investment banker in the world now smells opportunities to collect millions in fees if they can propose and facilitate deals.
Time Warner has two things that make it especially attractive. Read More »
Size matters in entertainment even for Time Warner, which has offloaded cable systems, Internet services, and — this year –magazine publishing, CEO Jeff Bewkes told an audience today at IESE Business School in New York . Time Warner has “the world’s largest collection of film and TV” and is the No. 1 program supplier to all of the major broadcast networks aside from the networks themselves. As a result, “we have been stable [and] extremely high in our earnings and results every year for the last 10 years.” Returns on capital for TV “are bigger than in the movie business for everybody.” Still, with its slate of about 20 movies a year — about a third of which are big-budget tentpoles, Warner Bros’ “returns in the movie business are bigger, year in and year out, than for our competition.” He says he greenlighted $370M for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy because it was the most efficient way to produce the films, even though it was a bigger risk. Now Warner has “a lot of of movies coming from DC Comics — Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman. … These are going to be highly sophisticated, like Bergman movies,” he said, apparently in jest. He adds that overseas countries account for about half of the studio’s revenues and that should increase due to “huge growth in China and Russia for movies.” Read More »
The government may have to insist on conditions before approving deals such as Comcast’s planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s with DirecTV the Time Warner CEO told investors today the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference. He’s not concerned about the next few years. “In some ways it could help because they’ll be more effective distributors.” But Jeff Bewkes wants assurance that the mergers won’t close doors for consumers who want his company’s content. ”It’s a question of what happens to innovation and technical advances,” he says. “Is it used to stifle competing products” such as set top boxes or user interfaces? It’s important that electronic distributors “offer a robust market that is not cut off to multiple sources for consumers to get at the programming.”
Time Warner has to be concerned about reaching consumers: With the immanent spin off of Time Inc., the company will derive the vast majority of its revenues from TV. It’s also investing heavily in original productions. Bewkes says the Turner networks have budgeted $4B and HBO has $2B. “We have a very vibrant pipeline” with four of the five top shows in HBO’s history currently on its schedule — “and there are more coming this year.”
There’ll be some changes at TNT as it focuses more on serialized dramas. “Our audiences were big and broad but a bit older than where we want to go.” With VOD giving viewers opportunities to catch … Read More »
“We are not satisfied with the recent ratings and advertising performance at some of the Turner networks,” the Time Warner chief told analysts this morning. There’s been a “significant drop off” at truTV. And at TNT “we didn’t take enough creative risks with its programming” and “lost ground with younger viewers….TNT has been softer than it should have been.” But Jeff Bewkes is ever the optimist: He has “great confidence in truTV” following management changes there. He also vows that TNT “can and will do better” with new programming. “These types of changes take time” but as a large network “TNT has access to all the resources it needs.”
In other news from the call: Time Warner told the Street that cash from HBO’s new streaming deal with Amazon Prime will be used to develop more original programming and to build HBO GO. As a result, while it will contribute to HBO’s Q2 revenues in 2014 and over the next few years, it won’t result in a commensurate increase in profits.
Bewkes also says that Time Warner is talking with Dish Network about its plan to create a low-cost package of pay TV channels to be made available online to individual users. “It could allow us and them to target consumers who might not subscribe to multichannel TV” — especially young adults. But he adds that in these talks, as … Read More »
Ouch: “Maybe it is for him,” the Time Warner CEO said when asked in an analyst call to respond to the DreamWorks Animation chief’s comment this week that “movies are not a growth business.” This was an easy punch for Jeff Bewkes to throw: Warner Bros had a record year domestically last year and just reported strong Q1 results helped by The Lego Movie and 300 — while DWA shares are down about 11% today after it took a $57M writedown for Mr Peabody & Sherman. Jeffrey Katzenberg’s company “doesn’t make many movies,” Bewkes says. “We’ve been doing fine in movies.” He predicts “continued growth overseas” for his studio’s event films. “We do have some tough comparisons given the great year we had last year.” Even so, “we do think we can grow the business over time. We don’t agree with (Katzenberg’s) view” although he acknowledged that “the business they’re in is quite different.”
The Time Warner CEO benefited from a new contract that took effect last year and the board’s conclusion that he “has been highly effective and successful” in a year when the share price appreciated 46%. Jeff Bewkes‘ 2013 package included: $2M salary, $8.2M stock awards, $7.8M option awards, $14.4M non equity incentives, and $126,889 in other compensation. The “other” category includes $55,191 for Bewkes’ personal use of the company plane as well as payments for car and driver and reimbursement for financial advisory services. The Time Warner board treats Bewkes like a rock star in comparison with other execs: His compensation accounts for 53% of the total paid to the top five officers, up from 48% last year. He made 5.5 times the median for his four top lieutenants, up from 4.5 times last year. Corporate governance watchdogs often become concerned that a CEO’s pay is out-of-whack when he or she makes more than three times the median for the others. Time Warner will hold its annual meeting in Burbank on June 13. Read More »
“We’re all in the process — and Warner Bros is in the center of it — of figuring out how to license and expose programming” over multiple platforms, the Time Warner CEO says. “The economics have to adjust.” But Jeff Bewkes told the Deutsche Bank Annual Media, Internet & Telecom Conference that he expects little or no cannibalization as TV shows move from networks to cable VOD and online services including Netflix, as well as traditional syndication. “Your interest may go up, not down. We’ve seen a lot of that at HBO….There’s a lot of repeat viewing.” Some analysts are beginning to wonder whether services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime — which thrive from their ability to show TV reruns — might suffer as programmers let cable companies offer episodes almost immediately after they first air on ad-supported VOD where fast-forwarding is disabled. But Bewkes says that TV viewing “will go up dramatically because there’ll be more opportunities for you to see it.…TV will become more accessible and you’ll still have your [online subscription VOD] backup service. It’s like a sandwich. Eat it while it’s hot.” Read More »
Does the Time Warner CEO need a refresher in the difference between TV “viewers” and “ratings”? It couldn’t hurt after he mistakenly confused the two in a comment to analysts on Wednesday that Starz challenged. Jeff Bewkes wanted to demonstrate that Cinemax — usually overshadowed by HBO — is an “underappreciated asset.” To drive home the point he added: “In 2013, we actually had more viewing at Cinemax than at Starz and basically, the same viewing at Cinemax as at Showtime.” The problem? “He meant ‘ratings,’ not ‘viewership’,” a company spokesman tells me. The error is meaningful: Starz is in more households than Cinemax, and usually handily beats the Time Warner channel in the number of eyeballs it attracts. For example, Starz averaged 232,000 live-plus-same-day viewers last year vs. 158,000 for Cinemax, according to Nielsen data supplied by Starz. Bewkes’ initial “viewership” claim “is not substantiated when examined through the lens of all accepted audience measurement standards,” Starz says. Nielsen data show that “Starz bested Cinemax in households and in total viewers P2+ for total day, in prime time, in live-only viewing, and in every live+DVR measure, both for the flagship Starz network and the multiplex channels.” Easy to see why Time Warner prefers to look instead at ratings, the percentage of potential audience that tunes in. The Cinemax-brand channels collectively had a 1.0 total day rating in … Read More »
“There’s been more talk than action,” Jeff Bewkes told analysts this morning when asked about plans by Sony and Verizon — and possibly others — to offer an Internet service with traditional cable channels. Time Warner is “not philosophically opposed” to them. “We just haven’t seen anyone come up with a viable, powerful consumer offering yet.” Sony and Verizon might find it hard to change his mind. The Time Warner chief says he doesn’t want to “make a little money there” if he believes it will “cannibalize something else.” That condition’s important: Programmers fear that many subscribers might cut the cord with traditional pay TV services if offered an opportunity to pay less for fewer channels. For example, people who don’t watch sports would be ripe targets for an online offering that didn’t require them to subsidize ESPN and costly regional sports networks. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who doesn’t have a big investment in sports, is much more enthusiastic than Bewkes is in Internet pay TV. “Based on a variety of discussions that we’re having, I do believe that there’ll be at least one [service] commencing operations in 2014,” he said last week. That’s “a good opportunity for us to enter into a new relationships with emerging distributors to add to our stable of the existing ones.”
Time Warner Raises Dividend As Q4 Earnings Beat Expectations
It’s a big week for media companies and real estate. Yesterday Comcast announced a plan to build a $1.2B corporate campus in Philadelphia. Now Time Warner says that Related Companies, an entity owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and GIC ponied up slightly more for the Time Warner Center at New York’s Columbus Circle, which opened in 2004. The deal is largely in line with what people expected in July when Time Warner agreed to move its NYC headquarters and operations, including CNN, to an 80-story skyscraper planned for the industrial Hudson Yards area around 10th Ave and 33rd St. The company will lease its current office space from Related until early 2019, and has made “an initial financial commitment” to Hudson Yards with plans to move there in late 2018. It will be “New York’s next great neighborhood,” CEO Jeff Bewkes says, and will enable Time Warner to “reallocate substantial savings to our primary business of creating and sharing great storytelling in television, film, and journalism with audiences around the world.” The company plans to take more than 1M square feet of office space there for about 5,000 employees in the corporate operations as well as HBO, Turner Broadcasting, and Warner Bros. Time Inc will go its own way after it separates from Time Warner this year. Bewkes said in 2011 that he wanted to review the media giant’s real estate holdings. … Read More »
Outside of Comcast and Verizon, cable and satellite companies “haven’t moved fast enough or effectively enough” to offer video on demand to their subscribers, the Time Warner CEO told the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. Distributors have the rights to offer shows on VOD, and audiences want it. “If you think about the success of things like Netflix, the interest YouTube – it’s mostly because you can get your stuff on demand.” It’s “a gigantic opportunity” for pay TV. But “there’s very spotty performance among distributors on how these tremendous VOD rights are conveyed to you.” if distributors don’t move more quickly then the demand “is going to be filled by somebody else” — probably a tech company. That would be “a missed opportunity….It’s not going to serve consumers as well and won’t serve the broadband plant” or programming diversity. He seemed uncertain, though, that someone will soon offer an online pay TV service that would compete directly with cable and satellite — which became a big issue here yesterday when Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said he believes an over-the-top competitor will launch in 2014. “We’re all open to it,” Bewkes says. “The question for consumers and rights providers is: What service do they provide?” He also wonders whether the Internet infrastructure can handle the additional bandwidth demands for video. “That’s an open question.” Read More »
Time Warner startled a lot of people recently when it allowed the No. 1 cable operator to include HBO Go in a new $40 a month broadband service. Wouldn’t some consumers cancel their pay TV service if they found that they can watch the channel’s shows without a subscription to basic cable? But CEO Jeff Bewkes says he isn’t worried. “It’s pretty limited,” he told analysts today in a conference call to discuss Q3 earnings. “It won’t be attractive to most people, but might appeal to a segment.” He wouldn’t discuss terms of the deal, or speculate about how many channels a broadband-only service could offer before programmers would demand that the carrier pick up all of them — basically, replicating the pay TV bundle. “It’s something we don’t have to be concerned about” just yet. “Of all the network groups, we have the highest proportion in the top 40″ with 80% of the company’s cable network revenues coming from TNT, TBS, CNN and Cartoon Network. If a broadband provider tried to develop a best-of-cable package “our networks would be in there.” Meanwhile, Bewkes says that HBO’s having “a great year” with subscription growth. Read More »
Time Warner‘s CEO says he’d be open to helping a broadband-only product from a cable company because it would protect HBO‘s relationship with the biggest source of the premium channel’s customers. “Distributors are competing more,” Jeff Bewkes told investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in NYC. A cable-provided broadband arrangement with HBO “will make it an offer you can’t refuse. … We see growth there for HBO in that.” The exec still doesn’t like the idea of offering the premium channel on broadband to people who don’t also deal with a pay TV provider. As many as 10M homes receive Internet service without cable or satellite, he says. “If you take out old people, it’s probably 5M or 6M.” But people in about 70M homes subscribe to pay TV but not HBO. “We’re working more on that.” Bewkes also provided the most vigorous response I’ve heard so far by a programming exec at the confab to questions about whether their price increases might drive the pay TV business off a cliff by making it too expensive for consumers. Read More »
Time Warner’s CEO says that it’s much more likely that pay TV will start to offer smaller bundles of channels, instead of selling them individually. And that’s OK with him: His Turner Broadcasting channels and HBO “would be highly likely to be in any package that anybody would create.” And if cable and satellite companies lower the price for a basic subscription, then it “would make HBO more affordable.” So even though he doubts that the current system of bundles will break up soon, “if it does it will probably happen in a way that helps us.” The entertainment giant has been talking with companies that want to offer pay TV channels via the Internet. He says he doesn’t know what Intel is “going to do, or whether they’re going to do” anything while Apple is a company “we talk to all the time.” But even though he’s ”not philosophically opposed” to Internet competition to traditional pay TV, “we don’t see it being viable through any of the usual suspects yet.” Bewkes adds that he isn’t terribly worried about people pirating some of his hits, since it builds word-of-mouth interest. “Game Of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. That’s better than an Emmy.”
CEO Jeff Bewkes must be glad that he only has to meet with ordinary shareholders once a year. Two dominated the Q&A session at today’s gathering with questions based on a view that Time Warner is engaged in campaigns to promote President Obama’s political fortunes, and gun control legislation. One found it suspicious that Michelle Obama awarded the Oscar for Best Picture, won by Warner Bros’ Argo. He noted that actor George Clooney — one of the film’s producers — had hosted fundraisers for the Obama campaign, and that the President and First Lady attended TNT’s annual Christmas In Washington special to raise money for the Children’s National Medical Center. “What a way to say ‘thank you’,” the shareholder said. Bewkes explained that the TNT show invites “sitting office holders that we have elected, whether wisely or not. They are not candidates.” As for the Oscar, “that’s done by the members of the Academy….That’s a whole forest if you wander into that.” Read More »
UPDATE SUNDAY 2 PM: Warner Bros Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara is finally confirming internally my news that Warner Bros Television Group Bruce Rosenblum is exiting. This, after Tsujihara for months and even in recent weeks has told almost everyone there that Rosenblum was staying.
BREAKING … SATURDAY 10 PM… EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood always fires people in success, or so the saying goes. I’ve learned that the announcement by Warner Bros Entertainment CEO (and soon-to-be-chairman) Kevin Tsujihara is planned for 7 to 14 days after next week’s TV upfront presentations. Despite Tsujihara’s claims for months that he hadn’t made up his mind what to do about the brilliant but sharp-elbowed Bruce Rosenblum, I can tell you Tsujihara declared from Day One of his new job that “Bruce is an unnecessary layer of management”. This, even though Rosenblum’s Warner Bros Television Group consistently contributes half of Warner Bros Entertainment’s profits year after year. I’m told that Rosenblum won’t be replaced as President of the Warner Bros Television Group now that he’s quietly settled out his contract which expires in August. (Tsujihara never made a move to negotiate a new one for him.) Some already expect Rosenblum not to turn up at next week’s upfronts. Instead Bruce is sitting on a fat severance package in recognition of his more than two outstanding decades at Warner Bros and for keeping his mouth shut during the humiliation of losing the WB CEO job and then getting kicked to the curb on top of that. Many in Hollywood thought Tsujihara might keep Rosenblum in place rather than bust up what is so obviously a winning formula atop the TV group. Instead Tsujihara proved that, just like his Time Warner boss Jeff Bewkes, he is more obsessed by politics and personality than profit. (“It would have been pretty awkward, quite frankly,” Tsujihara told the TV community about keeping Rosenblum on.)
Warner Bros Television President Peter Roth has just been signed to a new long-term deal and will report to Tsujihara for the first time. Roth reps the increasing power of content and the executives directly responsible for its creation. ”As I look at the key people that exist, Peter comes at the top of the list. He’s at the top of the game right now creatively,” Tsujihara enthused privately on Day One of his new job. But Rosenblum’s roles will be assumed by a new WBTV leadership mix including Warner Bros TV Group EVP Craig Hunegs, Warner Bros International Distribution President Jeffrey Schlesinger, and Warner Bros Television EVP Brett Paul. (“Peter is the big teddy bear but Brent was sent in to beat you up,” notes one exec.) These guys are some of what Bewkes was referring to back on January 28th when he talked about the “very strong benches of people beneath”. All will become the TV group’s new sharp-elbowed negotiators who won’t rub people the wrong way like Rosenblum did.
It’s been a professional and emotional roller-coaster for Rosenblum ever since he expected the top job and didn’t get it. Read More »
Listen to (and share) episode 34 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman as Deadline’s Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look at out-of-whack CEO pay; a Washington threat to the Pay TV oligopoly; YouTube goes subscription with 30 new channels; and why Time-Warner’s Jeff Bewkes thinks blockbusters make sense financially.
Deadline Big Media, Episode 34 (MP3 format)
Deadline Big Media, Episode 34 (MP4a format) Read More »
“As a category more often than not you end up ahead” with the big-budget extravaganzas, the Time Warner CEO told investors today at the Jefferies Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. Despite the high costs, franchise properties are “more predictable” and “are more profitable and less risky than medium or small” budget films. Studios deserve some credit for learning from their mistakes. “In the old days the sequels were weaker” and less interesting than the original productions. With Harry Potter, though, “we made eight of them. They were all successful…but they were not the same.” Jeff Bewkes also saluted Disney’s handling of Iron Man, following the weekend success of Iron Man 3. That “shows you how you can build a franchise if you’re good at it, and all of the studios are getting good at it.” Even so, Bewkes pitched investors on the virtues of television — which he says continues to grow overseas and via online distribution. Once his company spins off its magazine publishing operation “basically 90% of Time Warner is now a television company…That’s the new Time Warner.” Indeed, Kevin Tsujihara landed the top job at Warner Bros in part due to his background in television and in finance, Bewkes says. As for his most troubled TV network, CNN, the CEO says that under Jeff Zucker “you’re seeing a lot more bounce in its step these days.” He’s optimistic about … Read More »