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CNN/Broadcast News Talks Could Still Be On

Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes talks about joint ventures, potential acquisitions and why TNT and TBS will do well this upfront 3/03/2009 09:42:13 AM Eastern

A bullish Jeff Bewkes used a Florida analyst conference on Monday to offer a helping hand to struggling broadcast network news operations. When asked if the Time Warner chief executive would, again, be interested in discussing some kind of merger between CNN and a network news division, the chief executive appeared to open the door.

"News at the major networks is problematic - depending on the network. Maybe they need to rationalize the fairly high cost of broadcast network news that's being put through a small half hour or hour day part segment everyday...We're leaving it to them to solve their problems. Maybe we could help, because we're here to help." As recently as 2007, CNN and CBS News were pondering a get together. CNN's Anderson Cooper is a contributor to CBS' 60 Minutes and Christiane Amanpour was a contributor to the long-running news magazine.  CNN has also had talks in the past with ABC News. NBC Universal and Fox have their own cable news channels.

Bewkes went on to mention that CNN - a Time Warner property -has doubled its profits in the last four years and has had among the highest earnings growth of any corporate asset over the last five years. "It's doing fantastic."

Attending the three day Deustche Bank media conference, held at the $500 a night Breakers' hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, Bewkes was also asked about potential acquisitions.

When asked if he'd be interested in buying a broadcast network, Bewkes didn't rule it out, but warned that the company didn't like declining assets. "If something was selling at a really low price and where you could see a very clear return on profit...Maybe some of them are getting really distressed. Seems like they are...I'm not stalking them for sure."

The company would certainly have the cash on hand to grab any favorable deals whether broadcast or cable channels. Time Warner is expected to receive a payment of around $9 billion when it demerges its Time Warner Cable unit this month.

Separately, the Time Warner chief used the conference to do some serious pre-upfront posturing on behalf of cable channels TNT and TBS which are expected to do well in the May ad market.

"No-one else has two big reach cable networks. We can afford movie packages no-one else can afford, we amortize them better across the two, add a very strong sports right position, take all that and drive the affiliate carriage renewals we've been driving and you have a very strong economic platform."

Bewkes added that the company would invest more heavily in programming to help the services widen their advantage against the competition. He said the company was attracting independent talent and independent projects because, "We can offer a better platform and better economics for any given piece of programming."

"TNT is the biggest drama network on cable and TBS biggest half hour comedy network. As viewers come off broadcast they go to cable. You think they're going to any of the 100 networks, they're not, they're going to TNT and TBS."

 

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