Bewkes: Full sale of AOL is unlikely

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NEW YORK -- Time Warner Inc. likely would only spin off "a slice of AOL" if it decided to create a stock currency for acquisitions down the line, TW president and COO Jeffrey Bewkes emphasized Thursday amid continuing Wall Street talk about a potential sale or spinoff of the online unit.

He also signaled continued disinterest in a potential sale of the Time Inc. magazine division despite Wall Street analysts' recent suggestions that a divestiture could happen soon and outlined key terms necessary for TW to offer its movies via Apple Inc.'s iTunes.

Speaking here at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in a session that was webcast, Bewkes signaled the company is considering a partial spinoff, but wouldn't say when and how exactly it could become reality.

A complete sale or spinoff of AOL "wouldn't be in our interest or shareholders' interest at this point," Bewkes said, arguing there was upside in the business to take advantage of given that AOL since the launch of a new strategy has been "doing a little better than expected."

Asked if a Time Inc. sale could make sense just like the sale of Warner Music Group did, the TW president said the two businesses were "very different." He listed music market declines and piracy along with WMG's status as the fourth-ranked music major as key reasons behind the music firm's sale by TW. He also said the music market continues to face a "controversial prospect."

Asked about the prospect of TW's movies coming to iTunes, Bewkes mentioned two key conditions: "an economic structure that makes it worthwhile and adequate (digital rights management)."

He also signaled that TW Cable would like the big broadcast networks to make their primetime shows available on cable VOD a day after their first run as TW's HBO does with its big shows. However, he cited the fact that networks don't own all their shows as a key stumbling block.

TW is pushing for more collaboration on this front. For example, Bewkes said that for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" on NBC, his firm gave NBC the right to put the show on the Web the next day and on Cox Communications' VOD platform to keep viewers tied to the show.

While he declined comment on the possible issuance of more TWC shares into the market, the TW president on Thursday again lauded the unit for being "a great business."
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