NBCU-Comcast deal not worrying Bewkes

Time Warner chief talks potential for 'Sherlock,' TNT series

NEW YORK -- Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said Tuesday that the strength of his company's networks and film units leave him relaxed in the face of the Comcast-NBC Universal deal.

He also discussed the sales process for MGM, TW's film business and the strong opening of "Men of a Certain Age" on TNT.

Closing the second day of the annual UBS Global Media & Communications Conference, Bewkes said TW has not signed a nondisclosure agreement with MGM so far, but declined to comment on TW's possible bid plans as the studio looks at a sale.

He also touted the continuing success of TW's film unit that, he again argued, has defied the conventional wisdom that Hollywood is a hit-and-miss business.

He said his team expects "Invictus" and "Sherlock Holmes" to make more than $100 million at the boxoffice, which would mean the studio operation will reach eight films grossing more than that for 2009 -- a first.

Plus, "we have some very strong slates coming" next year and beyond, he said. He wasn't ready to provide financial guidance for TW for 2010, beyond saying: "It's looking good."

Discussing the Comcast-NBC Uni deal, Bewkes was asked if TW feels it lacks power or reach. He argued the transaction shows the value of cable networks and studio content. TW owns "the biggest stable of must-have networks, most of which lead their category," he said. "I don't see that (deal) affecting us particularly," given that Comcast has signaled it will comply by all current rules, including non-discrimination rules.

Losses for the CW network, which TW co-owns with CBS Corp., have come down, but, "We'd like a profitable network," Bewkes told the UBS gathering. He said more hit programming is key to achieving that.

With AOL starting to trade as a separate company on Thursday after a spinoff from TW, Bewkes was also asked about one of his favorite topics -- why media mergers often fail.

He cited the fact that the industry has many moguls as a key reason. They are "not as accountable to shareholders as others," he said.

Bewkes also touted the new Ray Romano show "Men of a Certain Age" on TNT, citing 5 million viewers and saying the show held the audience of top-rated show "The Closer."

Asked about the sluggish Time Inc. magazine unit, Bewkes said the past year dragged down the division mostly due to the recession as advertising revenue fell despite readership staying up.

He predicted that Time Inc. earnings will be up next year thanks to a likely ad recovery and restructuring charges having been taken already.
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