Time Warner CEO Talks Profits, Conan, Ashton Kutcher

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At the conglomerate's annual meeting, Jeff Bewkes said Kutcher's addition to "Two and a Half Men" is a "strong move" after a shareholder asked him about a possible TV comeback for Charlie Sheen.

NEW YORK - Talk about the creative successes and profitability of its film and TV operations, as well as a promise of continued shareholder rewards via dividends and the like were key topics at Time Warner's annual meeting in Atlanta on Friday. But chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes also touted the success of TBS late show Conan and answered the question from one shareholder who suggested that the company bring Charlie Sheen back to TV.

Bewkes responded to the Sheen mention by highlighting that Warner Bros. and CBS have in recent days announced that Ashton Kutcher will join hit comedy Two and a Half Men. "We have very high expectations for that," he said, calling it a "strong move." But Bewkes said "we can't comment much on Charlie Sheen at this time because there is ongoing litigation."

During his prepared remarks, Bewkes mentioned Conan O'Brien's move last year to TBS as an example of TW's commitment to spending on good talent and content. His show "is a ratings and advertising bonanza," Bewkes said, highlighting that his audience is "at least a decade younger than his competition'sa, including Jay Leno's show."

Bewkes also mentioned Warner Bros.'s recent acquisition of Flixster and the recent launch of early-release films in homes in the new premium VOD window.

Bewkes said those and other recent moves by the company are examples that "underscore our commitment to making our branded commitment available" to consumers when and where they want it.

Bewkes on Friday also once again touted TW's commitment to shareholder rewards, highlighting its 3 percent dividend yield as higher than that of other media and entertainment companies. After $3 billion in stock buybacks in 2010, TW's $1.3 billion year-to-date is  more than double the pace from a year ago, he added.

The TW boss also expressed his excitement over record TV profits last year and industry-leading profits in the conglomerate's film business. He lauded his company's film and TV studios, as well as its TV networks for continuing to produce strong content franchises.

Discussing Warner's TV production business after this week's upfronts, he said it was again the top provider to U.S. broadcast networks last year - as it has been for 19 of the past 24 years.
Next season, Warner will provide at least four shows on every broadcast network, he added, calling it "a staggering achievement."

Overall, earnings growth has been outperforming peers, he said, vowing to even more aggressively spending on content, marketing and increased returns to shareholders this year.

Bewkes on Friday showed video clips from such TV shows and upcoming films as TNT's Falling Skies, HBO's Game of Thrones and Too Big to Fail, Luck, Green Lantern, The Hangover 2 and the final Harry Potter film. He reminded the audience that with $6.5 billion made by the franchise so far just at the boxoffice, Potter is the most successful film franchise of all time.

Asked about the status of the hiring process for a new CEO of the Time Inc. publishing unit, Bewkes said he expects a "strong" CEO to be named later this year. No member of the interim triumvirate that has been leading the unit will become CEO, he said.

Asked about CNN's decision to reformat the show Parker Spitzer to In the Arena, Bewkes said it was a good move, but the show remains a work in progress. Bewkes said that CNN always seems to be of interest to people, "and it should be of interest." After all, "it continues to prove its value in these turbulent times," he argued.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai