Time Warner CEO on CNN Debate: Ratings Will Be Great, "Particularly If Someone Gets Killed"

Jeff Bewkes Horizontal - H 2014
AP Images

Jeff Bewkes Horizontal - H 2014

Jeff Bewkes says that TBS and TNT can do what CNN has done.

At an investment conference in New York, Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes preached the value of patience for investors a bit antsy these days about cord cutting trends and declining ratings. He pointed to two of his networks — CNN and the Cartoon Network — which he says are seeing upticks in advertising interest. He also nodded to tonight's Republican Debate to be be broadcast on CNN, and predicted that ratings will be great, "particularly if someone gets killed onstage."

That drew a laugh at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, but his point was serious. He says that a while back, observers were saying that the television categories of kids and news (separate ones, obviously) were on the descent. "I'm glad to say that's not true," said Bewkes, then wished for some patience when it came to TBS and TNT, where ratings have slumped, but the company has redoubled its investment in original programming.

Even more than patience, Bewkes came across as perhaps the industry's top cheerleader of video-on-demand, repeatedly hammering the need to deliver content to consumers when they want it on multiple platforms. That means putting more than a season of a show on its own VOD platforms, he says.

Bewkes patted his company on the back, saying that at HBO, "We were the first to put it on demand," praising HBO Now as "revolutionary."

He made the probably obvious, but also under-discussed point that the shift to video-on-demand has been influencing the types of content being produced. As an example, he said that serialized dramas are working better than ever while procedurals feel "formulaic."

Bewkes isn't sweating skinny bundles either. As long as they include video-on-demand. He points out that a certain company that charges less than $10 a month (he couldn't quite bring himself to identify this company as Netflix) is offering multiple seasons of hit shows, and compares this company to a cable or satellite operator charging $80 for a subscription. To the investors, he challenges, "You do the math about who has the money to pay for the most rights."