Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes Not Pursuing NBC Universal

But Would Like to Pull Hulu Into Subscription Scheme for TV Everywhere

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As reports amass around NBC Universal's potential future corporate owners, you can officially count out Time Warner Chairman-CEO Jeff Bewkes among the interested parties.

Jeff Bewkes
Jeff Bewkes
Speaking at a keynote Q&A at TV Week's Innovation 360 conference in New York, Mr. Bewkes described NBCU as a "very complicated" business that might not make total sense for a cable company such as suitor Comcast with a portfolio that includes a broadcast network and a movie studio.

Two misguided philosophies of media mergers and acquisitions are often cited, he said. One, "we're great, so we can do it better," and two, "synergy." He then went on to note that in theory "there are certainly cases where their assets could complement each other. Like when Turner merged with HBO, that made sense because they were like businesses. But there are a lot of times where properties are not very connected."

Time Warner is in the process of ending its own failed media merger with AOL, which bought Time Warner in 2000 on the misguided premise that it could persuade rival media companies to use AOL as their sole online subscription service. "What's amazing is how little scrutiny there was over that premise," he said of AOL's failed bid to become a cable-like content brand online. "Nobody had that discussion at the time."

Mr. Bewkes pointed to Time Warner Cable's recent spin-off from its corporate parent as a sign of media disaggregation done well. "They figured out the difference between being a content company vs. a distributor, and their stock has been at the high end since the spin-off," he said. "The question was, would each of us be able to focus on our assets and be valued? And now our stock is on the high end, too."

Time Warner's next big initiative is TV Everywhere, which is seeking to make cable-network content available online at no additional cost to cable subscribers. Mr. Bewkes hopes to include Hulu and the broadcast networks in the subscription-based initiative as well, indicating that both may soon adopt a similar business model. "What Hulu shows is how valuable good programming is on the internet. We would be interested in working with their partners when [content] becomes not free on broadcast -- and that's a 'when' and not an 'if.'"

Mr. Bewkes is still a firm believer in the future of Time Inc., a publishing portfolio he insists is not for sale, despite recent rumors. "No publishing company can ever say they wouldn't consider restructuring," he said. "But we have in that business a pretty healthy readership. There's a lot of myths that newspapers show the way of magazines, but newspapers rely on local, classified advertising, which magazines just aren't exposed to. Our magazines' readership is holding up, the brand position is actually increasing for competition, although there's certainly more change needed in the news category than celebrity."

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