Rising to the Top the Bewkes Way: Embrace Technology, Raise Hell

Which Skills Got Time Warner Chief to the Top

By Published on .

Much of the media-industry take on Jeffrey L. Bewkes, the next CEO of Time Warner, seems to arrive through the prism of his days running HBO. But it was his inability to keep quiet about the direction of all of Time Warner that catapulted him through the ranks.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Photo: XXX

"Jeffrey L. Bewkes, the next CEO of Time Warner"

Related Story:

How Time Warner's New Big Man Will Make the Media Giant Smaller
Cable Arm Likely to Be First on Block. Next Up: Time Inc. and AOL

"He would not just go for the corporate line," said one longtime Time Warner executive who was around, like Mr. Bewkes, when HBO was just a small division of the old Time Inc. "Even from those days everybody kind of figured this guy was going to run the place."

"There was the AOL thing, which he famously was negative about. But there were other things before that," the executive said. "After the Time Warner merger, they were going to do a Dutch auction offering of stock. It was going to force shareholders to buy more shares or be diluted, and anyway, it was kind of a goofy construct. I remember Jeff just standing up and saying 'This is nuts' to [Time Warner CEO Gerald M. Levin]."

Now he's set to take over the job that Mr. Levin, who brokered the deal for AOL to buy Time Warner in 2000, was driven out of in May 2002. (Mr. Levin's successor, Richard Parsons, will remain as chairman.) What all that speaking up by Mr. Bewkes led to was an appointment to run Time Warner's entertainment and networks group, which he took over in July 2002 as part of a series of personnel shifts following Mr. Levin's exit. From his post overseeing cable channels such as CNN and TNT and movie studios Warner Bros. and New Line, Mr. Bewkes has had time to build a reputation and perspective beyond the network that brought America the "The Sopranos."

Outside the Time Warner corridors, investors see him as an executive who is able to help them put their money where his content is. "Jeff likes to embrace technology, and we'll continue to see him trying to harness it to improve fundamentals on the cable side ... or with AOL," said Thomas Eagan, an Oppenheimer analyst. "He was totally key in pushing the change in the AOL business model a year ago -- when revenue wasn't quite as strong as they'd thought. He's been very aggressive in pushing them to compete with the players in the future."
Weekly closing price. Source: Bloomberg

Ron Grant, chief operating officer at AOL's portal division, wouldn't address what Time Warner's plans might be for AOL down the road, but when asked whether there is synergy between AOL and its corporate siblings, he said: "Absolutely." AOL's ad network, Platform A, he added, "gives Time Warner companies incredible leverage to monetize all of its world-class brands."

Close contact
Indeed, advertising will be key to Time Warner's future if the expected divestitures happen. What Mr. Bewkes could stand to do more of -- as the rest of the Time Warner C-suite has started to do -- is develop hands-on relationships with marketers and agencies.

"[Ad-supported content] is not something he naturally came up through," said Phil Kent, who was lured back to Turner Broadcasting as CEO by Mr. Bewkes in 2003. "He was only really getting it in buckets through his involvement with AOL, so if anything, we'll probably be a little bit more involved with him and trying to get him with the major clients and top agencies."

But Mr. Kent's cable cohort, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, said Mr. Bewkes already has exhibited signs of a keen eye toward monetization of all properties. "Just as he brought HBO on Demand to life back in 2001, he understands the value of our enhanced TV products, like Start Over, and the opportunity that interactive advertising poses not only for the marketer but for networks and distributors alike."

Good taste
Others note his strong sense of what makes a good media property.
1. Dow Jones Wilshire 5000. Prices as of 11/2/07.
Source: Bloomberg

"He is a fan of great content and appreciates the power of strong brands," Ann S. Moore, chairman-CEO of Time Inc., said in an e-mail from the Quadrangle Group's media conference last week. "He is responsible for transforming HBO from a distribution player to a superior content player. Time Inc. is in the premier-content business."

"I like reporting to Jeff," Ms. Moore added. "He has made the organizational commitment to lead us in a very challenging time for all media."

Talent manager Bernie Brillstein -- a co-founder of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which produced "The Sopranos" -- also noted Mr. Bewkes' appreciation for good content. "He never 'wrote a script' that I know of," he said, referring to some TV executives' penchant for hijacking the creative process.

"From the day I met him, I knew: Here's the next chairman of the company," Mr. Brillstein said.

~ ~ ~
Contributing: Claude Brodesser-Akner
Most Popular
In this article: