Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes was on the hot seat during TheGrill, TheWrap‘s fifth annual Media Leadership Conference at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills on Monday, addressing recent cutbacks at his company, its newly expanded deal with the NBA and CNN’s difficulties in the ratings.
In a panel moderated by TheWrap’s editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman, Bewkes said that the company’s ongoing cutbacks — in the most recent example, news broke Monday that Turner Broadcasting is cutting its staff by 10 percent, leading to the loss of more than 1,400 jobs in the coming weeks — are part of a process that Time Warner has been engaged in “for many years” and are intended to introduce “a little more nimbleness to the company.”
“Every part of our company is in the process of doing that,” Bewkes said of the streamlining. “It’s just a natural part of what’s been going on at Time Warner for many years.”
Nonetheless, he conceded, the cuts amount to “pretty tough news” for the people involved, even if the companies are “in a better position.”
Bewkes also discussed Time Warner’s recently-reported deal with the NBA, which will bring telecasts of the league’s games to TNT through the 2024-25 season. Dismissing reports that, under the new deal, Time Warner is paying more than double and close to triple what it had previously been paying for NBA games, he said: “That’s not right … that’s not exactly right.”
Asked whether the price of the new agreement — whatever it might be — was well worth it, Bewkes asserted, “Absolutely.”
At one point, the panel discussion turned to Time Warner’s recent trend of spinning off its properties, in contrast to the trend toward consolidation in the industry. Bewkes opined that Time Warner — which was recently the target of an attempted takeover by Rupert Murdoch — is better off without the takeover, given its current position.
“We have very strong plans on our own,” Bewkes said, adding, “We do a lot of good things with Fox and we always have … we work together in all kinds of ways.”
Asked if spinning off properties has made Time Warner more vulnerable to takeover attempts, Bewkes said, “Yeah, except the word vulnerable — that’s one way to think of it … the other one is, able to take opportunities that come along.”
Despite talk of avoiding consolidation and the benefits of spinning off properties, Bewkes did concede there’s one company he wouldn’t mind acquiring: Netflix.
“The only good answer to that, since it’s worth what, 20 or 30 billion dollars, is … yeah, I wish I owned it personally,” before adding, “We do own a Netflix, we own HBO.”
Another big topic: CNN, which has struggled to make gains since Jeff Zucker took the reins in January 2013.
Brushing aside CNN’s ratings, which have lagged far behind competitor Fox News’, Bewkes asserted that all news networks’ ratings are down, and that CNN’s “ratings performance has been better this year relative to the others.”
Besides, he suggested, ratings aren’t as important as people think they are.
“Where the mistake is, I think, is when people look at CNN and they only focus on television ratings,” Bewkes said, citing the “gigantic lead” that CNN digital has over its competitors on mobile devices and tables, and that digital traffic translates to income.
The economic future for news is digital, mobile and subscription, Bewkes insisted, not advertising.
“Don’t miss that story,” he said.