Bewkes paints big picture

Next TW chief calls profit a priority

Time Warner must focus on being "the most profitable, not the biggest" entertainment company, and his team must concentrate on boosting its languishing stock, CEO-designate Jeffrey Bewkes said Wednesday.

It was his first public appearance since being tapped for the promotion.

His comments seem to signal his intent to keep a close eye on possible cost-cutting opportunities, the sale of slower-growing assets and higher shareholder returns.

In an appearance at the Dow Jones/Nielsen Media and Money conference, Bewkes also said that the writers strike won't have "any material adverse financial impact on us this year." He added that he expects the dispute to be resolved before it can start hurting TW's finances next year.

"We all have respect for them," he said about the writers, calling for a "fair and reasonable solution."

Bewkes declined specific comment about the timing of the potential sale or spinoff of Time Warner Cable, AOL and the Time magazine unit. He said he'd like TW to "sneak up" on its competitors more than in the past with strategic moves.

Bewkes, who once famously called talk of corporate synergies at TW "bullshit," said Wednesday that it's more about talent and relationships than money.

"Writers and producers come to us first" because TW owns industry-leading TV networks and film operations, he said. The primary reason to own certain businesses is not synergy, he said, but to run them well and position them as industry leaders.

TWC is "a very good business" with or without the rest of the conglomerate, he said, adding that "for now, it helps" other TW businesses. But Bewkes also said "any option is on the table" for the cable unit's future.

Bewkes said it makes sense for TW to retain AOL, rather than spin it off, because "it is a good business, especially its advertising business."

He also lauded TW's film operations for having been more profitable than its peers for the past five or six years.

The TW CEO-designate also said that entertainment business models might change amid technological and international growth.

For example, he said that instead of charging moviegoers $8 or more for a ticket, companies could charge less in return for a bigger audience. "What if you got only $1 per ticket, but 6 billion (people) see (the film)" for no major extra cost, he said.

Bewkes said separating the CEO job that he takes Jan. 1 and the chairman post — which TW chief Richard Parsons will continue to hold through at least May, when his contract expires — makes sense in a transition period. He emphasized that he and Parsons believe that the two positions should be held by the same person, though that is a decision for the TW board.

Asked whether he ever considered turning down the CEO position as such jobs seem short-lived and less fun these days, Bewkes replied, "I think it actually is (fun)."