“Of course, I didn’t turn down the offer,” Jeff Bewkes told Alan Murray, executive editor of Wall Street Journal Online, during a lunchtime interview at the Media and Money Conference. “I need the money.” The timing of this event, as Murray noted, was quite good, coming two days after the official announcement that the Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) COO would soon assume the CEO role. Bewkes added that it’s a very exciting and fun time to be at the helm, even with so many critics of the business.
– Diverse assets: There’s content synergies with all of Time Warner’s various businesses. As for distribution, there are clear advantages to holding onto the distribution channel. “Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) is the best customer of the cable channels.” Still, “every option is on the table.”
– AOL: “Think about if you owned it — and we do — it is a good business.” You’ve got two businesses: the old subscriber membership business, but that’s not the main business of AOL (NYSE: AOL). The real business is the advertising-and-eyeball-driven business, which is growing rapidly — 40 percent up until the last couple of quarters. “We are … ahead of everybody in handling other people’s third-party display advertising.”
– Publishing: “We’re not calling them magazines… they are journalistic content output.” They’re not just print operations, but online as well. There’s no difference between People and E!, since People can deliver the same videos of celebrities walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes.
– Stock price: Question from Murray: “Are you going to make it go up?” Answer: “Yes.” As for why it’s not already higher, Bewkes insisted it’s because “people don’t know” — a common sentiment among executives. Later on, Bewkes was asked if there were one thing he could tell the audience. “Buy the stock,” he joked.
– Digital: “There’s a lot of digital elements in what everyone’s doing.” Even HBO is a digital operation. It’s wrong to think that the advent of digital, which is good for the world’s seven billion people, is bad for revenue. You have an opportunity to deliver targeted, performance based products. “We’re all thinking about margin per unit, but that’s not the right way to look at it, because there’s no cost… There’s no cost to adding another million users.” In the future, it may make sense to earn a dollar per viewer, if there are a billion people consuming it.
– Time Warner in 10 years: Echoing his comments in the earnings call this morning, Bewkes replied: “I don’t want to tell anyone.” The company would rather quietly sneak up on the competition.
– Best move of his career: Greenlighting the Sopranos. “Making AOL go free was a big decision”. No question at all it was the right decision.
– Writer’s strike: “We don’t think it has any material adverse effect this year.” Hopes it will be resolved before next year, so problems can be avoided. This seems to be the prevailing attitude among media executives, although there’s less than two months left this year.