Time Warner ad trends solid in Q3

CFO holds company's line on Redbox

NEW YORK -- Third-quarter advertising trends at Time Warner's Turner networks are solid, but it is too early to speak of a real upturn in the ad market, CFO John Martin said Wednesday.

"We haven't seen any material (ad) rebound yet," he told the Bank of America -- Merrill Lynch Securities Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in Marina Del Rey.

In a webcast appearance, Martin said Turner's scatter ad rates are up from the recent upfront ad sales market in a sign that networks' strategy to sell fewer ad units in the upfront may pay off.

Asked about home video market trends, Martin said declines have further slowed, with the third-quarter down about 2.5% through August. And TW's film unit has year-ago comparisons that are getting easier, he said, predicting strong fourth-quarter DVD momentum thanks to the latest "Harry Potter" installment and "The Hangover," among others.

But Martin said TW is also using creative release strategies to reach consumers when they are ready to spend. The firm is expecting that still-struggling consumers will make buying decisions later than usual this holiday season despite a likely end to the recession. In reaction, "we are putting out titles later than usual," he said.

Asked about potential acquisitions of DreamWorks Animation and Vivendi's 20% stake in NBC Universal, which some have suggested TW may eye, Martin declined comment on specific companies.

"We have the flexibility to do anything we (want), but don't need to do anything," he reiterated the conglomerate's general stance on dealmaking. Importantly, TW will only make deals that have a strategic rationale, provide a financial return and have manageable execution risk, he added.

Pushed for more, he did acknowledge though that "animation is an attractive place to be," and he pointed to the success of his firm's "Happy Feet" and "The Polar Express." But whether TW will continue to build its own animation product or buy a bigger presence in the space will depend on which option would provide a better overall result longer-term, Martin said.

The TW CFO on Wednesday also held the company's line on DVD rental kiosk operator Redbox, saying the company wants new business models to be additive rather than cannibalistic.

"Discounted rental has its place, but it needs an appropriate window," he said, pointing out that Redbox's $1 rentals for current releases damage the value proprosition of sales of the same DVDs. "We have no intention of backing off from that position."

TW also recently said it is talking to Netflix about changes to the deals with the DVD-by-mail and Web streaming pioneer.

"It's a growing channel, it's not an unimportant channel," explained Martin. "We just don't think we get enough economics out of the channel."

He mentioned windowing and potential new rental share arrangements as possible solutions.