UPDATE, 8:45 AM: Time Warner shares are down 2.5% in early trading: Investors already knew that Harry Potter was a hit, and expected more from the cable networks. Time Warner tried to show the Street some love by accelerating its share repurchases — it spent $1.1B in 3Q — which enabled the company to raise its earnings-per-share growth estimate for 2011 to “high teens” from the previous “at least low teens.” But CEO Jeff Bewkes used his conference call with analysts to cheer-lead what he says will be a company-wide benefit from the growing global interest in high quality content. He says that CW (which Time Warner co-owns with CBS) recently cut “game-changing” deals with Netflix and Hulu. “It adds money to the ecosystem,” he says, especially as the digital services license old and serialized shows that are hard to syndicate. “There’s plenty of room for us to do deals if the people who want to buy (shows) can afford it.” Although the company acknowledged that it’s been disappointed by recent ratings at TBS and TNT, it expects that to change. In the first two weeks, re-runs of The Big Bang Theory have raised ratings at TBS, which Bewkes says should lead to “big improvement” in 4Q and 2012. “We think it’s going to continue to build and help the lead-in to Conan.” He says that the cable nets have had a hard time finding successful sitcoms to buy, although that’s changing. Warner Bros has four of the top seven now on TV. “We’ve never had so many successful comedies on the air at one time,” he says. The company says the loss of NBA games in 4Q will be immaterial; although it won’t have their big audiences, it also won’t have the big costs. Bewkes says he’ll look at adding NFL football to the mix. “We would not do it as a loss-leader” he says but adds that “it would be a giant move, if we made the move.” Time Warner says that ad prices in the scatter market are up high-single to low-double digits over upfront.
PREVIOUS, 4:55 AM: The entertainment giant will be talking a lot about its movies and TV shows today after Warner Bros’ record-setting quarter helped to make up for a slowdown in cable network growth and a decline in publishing. Time Warner had net income of $822M, up 58.1% vs last year, on revenues of $7.1B, up 10.8%. Earnings at 79 cents a share were well ahead of the 76 cents that the Street expected. Filmed entertainment revenues were up 19% to $3.3B powered by Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 and license fees from The Big Bang Theory, although home video was down. The cable networks, which include Turner Broadcasting and HBO, saw a 7% increase in revenues to $3.2B. That included a 9% increase in ad sales, less than some analysts expected. Meanwhile, Time Warner’s magazine publishing unit saw revenues fall 1% to $889M due in part to lower ad sales and newsstand purchases. CEO Jeff Bewkes says that “during the last few months we accelerated the pace of our stock repurchases,” which have amounted to $3.7B so far this year.
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