Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes showed tonight on PBS’ Charlie Rose that he and Rupert Murdoch may be the only Big Media moguls who can talk about the business without sounding like they were manufactured by IBM. Bewkes even had some interesting things to say, although most of his observations came from his greatest hits collection — and you could go dizzy trying to follow a train of thought from Charlie Rose’s zig-zag questioning. For example, Bewkes says that while the prospects for the movie business are bright, the days of having releases appear in theaters a few months before they’re available on home video are numbered. “Everyone in the business, including theater owners, has an interest” in getting to a point where films will be available everywhere early on, he says. Acknowledging that “this is a dangerous question,” Bewkes says that execs will work together and “be as thoughtful as we can to do it in a way that doesn’t undermine the theater experience.” But he doesn’t see how the industry can continue to wait months before offering a movie to home viewers. ”You create a gap for piracy,” and consumers “have to get what they want.” READ MORE »
UPDATE, 8:50 AM: Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes joined the pack of media company CEOs predicting that this year’s upfront ad market will be strong. “It’s looking pretty good,” he told analysts this morning. Ad cancellations are low. He also says that the company has strong momentum. Although he acknowledged that “TNT ratings remained challenged” in Q1, he believes that advertisers will warm to the addition in June of re-runs of The Mentalist, and plans to add four original series. Also CNN should benefit from the election, and Cartoon Network is “taking significant viewing share from its competition” — including Nickelodeon, which Bewkes says was hurt by its decision to offer some of its shows on Netflix. “Cartoon Network was up 14% and we think part of the reason is that we don’t have our shows spinning on (a subscription VOD) service.” Although there’s a role for streaming services like Netflix, if you put a show on “that runs the sprockets off, you’re going to erode the value.” That’s fine for older content, but for a popular show such as The Big Bang Theory “it’s unlikely it’s going to go to an S-VOD service anytime soon.” He wouldn’t mind, though, if Hulu — as widely rumored — changes its business model to be just available to pay TV customers. “We think authenticating makes sense… Hulu’s heading in the right direction now.”
The Time Warner chief delivered an unusually impassioned address today imploring investors to pressure everyone from pay TV distributors to Hollywood studios to deploy on-demand streaming initiatives including TV Everywhere and UltraViolet home video. “Not enough consumers are aware of these powerful enhancements and not enough consumers have them at their fingertips,” Bewkes told the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference. “We have to move much faster…You should absolutely demand that the companies in which you invest get serious and invest in this opportunity.” He’s most interested in television, the business that accounts for about 80% of Time Warner’s profits — and especially TV Everywhere, which gives pay TV subscribers the ability to watch shows on mobile devices on demand. ”The user experience today is really spotty. Some distributors make it easy and others don’t. You know who they are and so do they.” Specifically, Bewkes wants programmers to make more content available to TV Everywhere. He wants programs to be available on TV sets as well as tablets. He wants Nielsen to figure out how to measure the number of viewers on all digital platforms. And he wants distributors to make it easy to find and access programming. “You shouldn’t need to be knocked upside the head by an iPad to realize that consumers are demanding rich, flexible, intuitive user interfaces,” he says. Consumers “think they deserve it, and they do. And they’re voting with their finger tips everyday.”
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes channeled his inner Les Moonves in a conference call with analysts this morning to deliver one of the most relentlessly cheery infomercials he has ever presented for his company. But he wasn’t able to duplicate the CBS chief’s ability to mesmerize investors: Time Warner shares dipped sharply during the presentation after opening up on the company’s strong 4Q results and announcement of a new stock buy-back plan. The drop was due to the company’s warning that corporate expenses will rise in 2012. Execs also acknowledged that the film studio — which won’t have a new Harry Potter film — faces difficult comparisons with the 2011 results.
Still, Bewkes hammered on his theme that “our best years are ahead of us” — especially due to TV Everywhere and business models that promote digital distribution. “We’re at the vanguard of the industry” in promoting them, Bewkes says. For example, the HBO Go app soon will be available for Microsoft’s XBox. The company also is developing apps so pay TV subscribers can
Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and Viacom’s Sumner Redstone are among the honchos under attack by Anonymous — a group of so-called Internet “hacktivists” – The New York Times reports. Bewkes apparently has already been hit with threatening phone calls …
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes needed a better joke writer to help him acknowledge the anniversary of the blunder he made at last year’s UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference when he wrote off Netflix, comparing it to the Albanian army trying to take over the world. He had to eat those words as Time Warner, along with just about everyone else, began licensing programming to the online streaming service. “This is the appropriate place to point out that the Albanian army did take over the world. Alexander the Great? It’s close.” The line only elicited a few chuckles from analysts, but they didn’t seem to mind after hearing Bewkes say a lot of things they wanted to hear. Time Warner’s ad sales have been ”up double digits (since the upfront market) and are holding.” Although 4Q was a little soft, ”some of that is advertisers pulling stuff forward to the upfront. … We’re looking fine for the first quarter,” especially with the return of NBA games.
He also assured investors that they don’t have to be concerned about Warner Bros’ prospects following the end of the Harry Potter film series. He said that within hours, the Harry Potter presence that has done so much for Universal’s Islands of Adventure park in Orlando “will move in a material way in that direction” — suggesting that the company and Comcast will confirm reports that Universal Studios Hollywood will get a version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. ”Everybody stay tuned.” He also says that the studio has high hopes for additional franchises including the Batman/Dark Knight series.
NEW YORK — Time Warner Inc. Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes today announced the appointment of Laura Lang as Chief Executive Officer of Time Inc. Ms. Lang will join the company from Digitas Inc. where she served as Chief Executive Officer since 2008. She will become CEO of the largest U.S. publishing company, home to such iconic brands as PEOPLE, TIME, INSTYLE, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, in January 2012.
UPDATE, 8:45 AM: Time Warner shares are down 2.5% in early trading: Investors already knew that Harry Potter was a hit, and expected more from the cable networks. Time Warner tried to show the Street some love by accelerating its share repurchases — it spent $1.1B in 3Q — which enabled the company to raise its earnings-per-share growth estimate for 2011 to “high teens” from the previous “at least low teens.” But CEO Jeff Bewkes used his conference call with analysts to cheer-lead what he says will be a company-wide benefit from the growing global interest in high quality content. He says that CW (which Time Warner co-owns with CBS) recently cut “game-changing” deals with Netflix and Hulu. “It adds money to the ecosystem,” he says, especially as the digital services license old and serialized shows that are hard to syndicate. “There’s plenty of room for us to do deals if the people who want to buy (shows) can afford it.” Although the company acknowledged that it’s been disappointed by recent ratings at TBS and TNT, it expects that to change. In the first two weeks, re-runs of The Big Bang Theory have raised ratings at TBS, which Bewkes says should lead to “big improvement” in 4Q and 2012. “We think it’s going to continue to build and help the lead-in to Conan.” He says that the cable nets have had a hard time finding successful sitcoms to buy, although that’s changing. Warner Bros has four of the top seven now on TV. “We’ve never had so many successful comedies on the air at one time,” he says. The company says the loss of NBA games in 4Q will be immaterial; although it won’t have their big audiences, it also won’t have the big costs. Bewkes says he’ll look at adding NFL football to the mix. “We would not do it as a loss-leader” he says but adds that “it would be a giant move, if we made the move.” Time Warner says that ad prices in the scatter market are up high-single to low-double digits over upfront.
PREVIOUS, 4:55 AM: The entertainment giant will be talking a lot about its movies and TV shows today after Warner Bros’ record-setting quarter helped to make up for a slowdown in cable network growth and a decline in publishing. Time Warner had net income of $822M, up 58.1% vs last year, on revenues of $7.1B, up 10.8%. Earnings at 79 cents a share were well ahead of the 76 cents that the Street expected. Filmed entertainment revenues were up 19% to $3.3B powered by Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 and license fees from The Big Bang Theory, although home video was down. The cable networks, which include Turner Broadcasting and HBO, saw a 7% increase in revenues to $3.2B.
The Time Warner chief says that in four years he expects to see a doubling of his overseas business that now generates about $2.5B a year in revenue and $500M in operating profit. Most of the increase will come as the company’s pay TV networks and shows become more broadly distributed, generating higher ratings and ad sales. “The value of American-produced content is going up pretty fast around the world,” he told the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference. But he also raised the possibility of using the Internet to go around some conventional TV carriers. For example, in some parts of South America “multichannel (TV) subscriptions are only 10% of the market (and) there’s no reason the telephone company can’t sell HBO, TNT or CNN.” There’s no guarantee the strategy will work everywhere: Some broadband providers “say any content coming over my plant that I don’t think is good isn’t coming over my plant,” Bewkes says.
UPDATE: Jeff Bewkes Admits ‘Green Lantern’ Not As Bright As Expected As Time Warner Beats 2Q Estimates
UPDATE, 9:30 AM: CEO Jeff Bewkes tried to stick to his optimistic story for Time Warner, but analysts forced him to play defense as well in this morning’s quarterly earnings call. In response to a question, Bewkes acknowledged that Green Lantern “did not live up to expectations” — although he wouldn’t say whether Warner Bros has ruled out a sequel. Despite the film’s disappointing performance, the CEO says that he’s “not concerned” about the studio’s effort to capitalize on DC Comics superheroes: “DC will be a major contributor,” with new films on tap featuring Batman and Superman.
Bewkes also said that TNT and TBS’ ratings suffered because “we had some bad programming choices in series we acquired over the last few years.” The problem may have been exacerbated by the fact that some of the shows were also available on digital platforms. As streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu become more popular, “hit shows win, and mediocre stuff loses.” Turner hopes to fix the problem by adding reruns of popular series including The Mentalist and Hawaii Five-0. One hit “can have a significant impact,” Bewkes says. He urged analysts to keep an eye on Time Warner’s upcoming initiatives involving Flixster, the movie site it recently bought, and the entertainment industry’s UltraViolet program that enables consumers who buy a home video to access it on almost any kind of device. Beginning with Warners’ Green Lantern the “vast majority” of its releases will work with UltraViolet, Bewkes says. He adds that a beta version of Flixster that will be “deeply integrated” with UltraViolet will be released this week. Beginning this fall, consumers also will be able to bring DVDs they already own to retailers who will be able to make them available from the broadband cloud. All in all, investors seemed unimpressed with today’s news even though the financial numbers beat analyst estimates: Time Warner shares are down about 2.2% in mid-day trading.
PREVIOUS, 4:42 AM: The entertainment giant ended 2Q with net income of $638M, up 13.5% vs the period last year, on revenues of $7B, up 10.2%. Earnings at 60 cents a share handily beat the Street’s forecast of 56 cents. Analysts also anticipated revenues of $6.8B.
The message for the television industry at this year’s National Cable Show was clear: It’s all about broadband now. Programmers agreed that they have to focus on consumers who want to watch video on their smartphones and tablet computers. Meanwhile, cable operators know that they can make a lot of cash by enticing new customers to buy broadband now that the TV service business is mature. The big question is whether the Big Media companies can move fast enough to head off competitors such as Apple, Google, and Netflix. But we’ll let the moguls have the last word:
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman
- “For the content owners there’s never been a better time.”
- “Netflix is primarily a service that provides library programming. … Netflix got involved in one show (House Of Cards) that was a pay television kind of project, but that isn’t their fundamental business.”
- “If we are ad supported, (then) we need to have a measurement system in place so the mobile device in the home can sell ads. … (Nielsen) is not measuring it now. That’s one of the obstacles [for TV Everywhere].”
- “Consumers are changing. … People don’t want to watch the 17th repeat of the same show.”
- “In a world of a lot of choices, Snookie still rules.”
News Corp COO Chase Carey
- “We have to do a better job of exciting consumers.”
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes
- “Let’s all cheer up. This isn’t the music industry. It’s the cable industry. … It’s morning in the cable industry.”
- “We’re all sitting here at this convention at the cusp of putting all of [our programming] on demand. … We need to get [shows] on every device.”
- “Put the TV on all the Internet devices and don’t charge people to do it and allow them to [access] they way they’re accustomed to.”
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts
- “We are demonsrating a whole new level of (Internet) speed. … It’s where the future of broadband is headed.”
- “We need to make the television feel as relevant as all of these other products [such as smartphones and iPad tablet computers].”
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt
- “There’s no such thing as a TV anymore. There’s a video display device.”
- “I see Netflix as another programmer. But clearly if there is something that makes consumers not want to buy the big package (of programming) that we’re selling then that’s a threat to all of us.”
- “There clearly is a growing underclass of consumers that can’t afford [cable TV] and they want it. It would behoove all of us to have smaller packages… The economics make it difficult, but it would serve us well to worry about that group.”
Cox Communications President Pat Esser
- “You have to keep going back to the consumer and asking what they value. … Consumers wil reward you for doing that. And in some cases you won’t control all of it.”
Time Warner Jeff Bewkes comes across as the media world’s most laid-back CEO. But he asked a lot this morning when he told movie theater owners to cool their jets about Premium VOD. “There’s been too much excitement about this,” Bewkes said at a panel discussion sponsored by investment firm Jefferies & Co. “Our interests are aligned.” That will come as a surprise to the National Association of Theater Owners and its members who loathe PVOD as much as the Tea Party hates taxes. Exhibitors say many would-be ticket buyers will wait to watch films at home as studios including Warner Bros begin to offer 8-week-old releases on cable and satellite VOD services for about $30 a showing. Bewkes says theater owners are wrong: “I’m saying (box office revenue) doesn’t go down.” Everyone will suffer, he says, if the studios can’t provide an alternative to pirates who sell bootlegged copies of recent movies to people who don’t want to wait for the official home video release. Other panel members — none of them exhibitors — supported Bewkes. CBS chief Les Moonves said that although theater owners are scared, “you have to change a bit.” And Sony Corporation of America CFO Robert Wiesenthal said that “everybody is experimenting and being aggressive,” even though studios should recognize that theaters are “the foundation of the economic value chain for a feature film.”