Jeff Bewkes Meets With Sony's Michael Lynton as Search for Warner Bros. Chief Continues

Michael Lynton
Michael Lynton
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It seems that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is still looking for the right man or woman to run Warner Bros.

Bewkes recently met quietly with Sony Corp. of America president Michael Lynton as he seeks to resolve the succession question that has dogged the studio for several years. While Sony declines comment, a source close to Lynton says the meeting was not significant.

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A Time Warner source confirms that Bewkes has met in recent months with Lynton and several top television and film studio executives. But the Lynton meeting is potentially more interesting because of Sony's status. The company promoted Lynton, longtime co-chairman of Sony Pictures, in March, giving him oversight of its music business in addition to its movie and television properties. But Japan-based Sony is facing daunting financial challenges, and speculation has swirled that the company's film and TV studio might be for sale, though sources say chief executive Kazuo Hirai intends to hold off for now.

Sources also say Sony Pictures is under tight financial constraints into next year and that the studio is slashing its development slate. Those cost-saving moves apparently only apply to the film studio and not its television assets.

The question of succession at Warner Bros. has loomed since Bewkes decided in 2009 to renew current CEO Barry Meyer’s contract for only two years. In September 2010, Bewkes extended the deal for another two years and created an "office of the president" shared by the three inside contenders to succeed him: Bruce Rosenblum, president of the Warner Bros. Television Group; film studio chief Jeff Robinov; and home entertainment boss Kevin Tsujihara.

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That move only has stoked speculation about succession, and sources say the uncertainty has led to morale problems on the lot. Although many observers, including a major media investor, have long expected that Bewkes ultimately will give the top job to Rosenblum, a Time Warner spokesman has maintained that no decision will be made until sometime in 2013. Rosenblum is close to Meyer, but sources say Bewkes' preference would be to find an outsider to fill the top job while attempting to keep the current trio in place. “He’s looking for an alternative before he does what he is reluctant to do [in anointing Rosenblum],” says a high-level industry source.

Elevating Rosenblum would reflect the importance of television to Time Warner. Meyer took the top job at Warner Bros. after running the TV division, as did his predecessor, Bob Daly. Warners is a leading supplier to the networks, with hit shows including CBS' The Big Bang Theory, ABC's The Middle and NBC's The Voice (through its Warner Horizon unit). Rosenblum also has upped his profile in Hollywood recently by becoming chairman and CEO of the Television Academy, which oversees the Emmy Awards. But Rosenblum has made his ambitions clear, and that has sparked opposition internally.

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Robinov, to his credit, has presided over the mega-blockbuster Batman and Hangover franchises, and plans are afoot to develop a series of films based on Warners' DC Comics superheroes, beginning with next summer's Superman reboot Man of Steel. Tsujihara, while considered a long shot, heads the most digital-oriented aspect of the studio, which could position him to preside over an evolving business model, but he lacks experience in content creation.

A Time Warner rep says, "We're not going to comment on the succession-planning process."

Email: Kim.Masters@thr.com

Twitter: @KimMasters

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