Past, present, future meet at TW confab

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Time Warner shareholders bid their first farewells to chairman Richard Parsons as he and CEO Jeffrey Bewkes expressed confidence that the conglomerate is on the right path despite a still-sluggish stock price.

At the firm's annual shareholder meeting Friday at the CNN Center in Atlanta, Parsons pretty much confirmed that he will step down within the 12 months and possibly by year's end, potentially opening the way for Bewkes to add the chairman title.

"This is my last shot at this," Parsons said. "I'll be the outgoing chairman after this year, probably." Parsons has widely been expected to serve as chairman until the end of this year or the May 2009 shareholder meeting.

Bewkes, who was making his first appearance as CEO at an annual meeting, has a provision in his contract that says he can leave his job without noncompete provisions if he doesn't also get named chairman by Jan. 1.

While corporate governance advocates proposed that TW permanently separate the chairman and CEO roles, shareholders gave the proposal only 43% support, defeating it as they did last year.

Meanwhile, Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, told shareholders that an actors strike would be "very detrimental" to the entertainment industry. But he expressed hope that a new labor deal would be struck by the end of June or shortly thereafter.

As Parsons had done the year before, Bewkes lamented TW's stock price but predicted that strong execution, including continued cost-saving measures, eventually will boost shares.

Discussing deals, Bewkes said TW continues to work on a separation of Time Warner Cable and is "very close" to reaching such a deal. Asked whether TW's networks might suffer in carriage talks after a spinoff, he shrugged off any concerns. "The power of these networks is not so established and universal," Bewkes said.

The CEO declined comment on any talks between AOL and Yahoo over a possible deal. But he said AOL is doing well enough on its own that it doesn't have to be desperate for a deal. (partialdiff)
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