Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes channeled his inner Les Moonves in a conference call with analysts this morning to deliver one of the most relentlessly cheery infomercials he has ever presented for his company. But he wasn’t able to duplicate the CBS chief’s ability to mesmerize investors: Time Warner shares dipped sharply during the presentation after opening up on the company’s strong 4Q results and announcement of a new stock buy-back plan. The drop was due to the company’s warning that corporate expenses will rise in 2012. Execs also acknowledged that the film studio — which won’t have a new Harry Potter film — faces difficult comparisons with the 2011 results.
Still, Bewkes hammered on his theme that “our best years are ahead of us” — especially due to TV Everywhere and business models that promote digital distribution. “We’re at the vanguard of the industry” in promoting them, Bewkes says. For example, the HBO Go app soon will be available for Microsoft’s XBox. The company also is developing apps so pay TV subscribers can watch programs from all Time Warner networks on a VOD basis — including on television sets. Turner has made 1,000 hours of content available for digital distribution, and Bewkes says there’s more to come in 2012. He doesn’t understand why some pay TV companies including Comcast and Time Warner Cable have been reluctant to let subscribers access shows on demand on a wide array of broadband-connected devices. It would “make it less likely that the subscriber will ever cut the cord” and encourage young people to become pay TV customers. “Now it’s time for the whole industry to drive consumer awareness and consumer usage” of TV Everywhere, he says. Bewkes adds he’s “optimistic that the industry will get past the minor concerns that they have.”
The CEO reaffirmed his support for the entertainment industry’s UltraViolet initiative, which gives people who buy certain DVDs and Blu-ray discs the additional opportunity to stream the titles to broadband-connected devices. Yesterday Disney’s Bob Iger said that it hasn’t been “as consumer friendly as we had hoped.” But Bewkes says that “the consumer response we’ve seen so far reinforces how much pent up consumer demand exists” for streaming. He’d also like to see the studios sell digital downloads of their films earlier than they do now. “The whole industry will move to earlier sell-through” of home video, he says adding that it won’t necessarily cannibalize theater ticket sales or home video revenues.
Bewkes adds that he’s eager to see Apple expand its presence in media — for example by developing an easy to navigate multi-media television set. Indeed, it already exists: Any Apple screen “is a television,” Bewkes says. Ultimately anything that makes it easy for consumers to access hit content is “great for Time Warner. It’s great for films, great for networks and great for magazines.”