Time Warner plans to dramatically boost the amount of original programming on its TBS and TNT cable channels.
In a call with analysts Wednesday morning to discuss the media giant’s fourth quarter and year-end results, Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes said TBS and TNT would increase the number of episodes for its original shows by more than 40%.
The move comes as Time Warner prepares to ask pay-TV distributors for hefty increases in license fees to continue carrying the two channels. Bewkes has said he expects double-digit growth in subscription fees from the Turner channels, which also include CNN.
TNT has struggled lately. On Monday, its new medical drama “Monday Mornings” premiered to very disappointing ratings.
“We have more work to do,” Bewkes said of TNT.
Perhaps in anticipation of News Corp.'s plans to launch as many as two national sports channels in the coming years, Bewkes also noted TBS and TNT have deals with Major League Baseball and NCAA and NBA basketball. The Turner channels, he said, have the “strongest lineup of national sports rights than any other network other than ESPN.”
Bewkes ducked a question about whether there will be more executive changes at Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. unit in the wake of home entertainment head Kevin Tsujihara being tapped as the successor for Barry Meyer as chief executive of the Burbank movie and television studio.
Also in the running for the job at Warner Bros. was TV executive Bruce Rosenblum and movie chief Jeff Robinov. There has been speculation that one or both may bolt because they were passed over in favor of Tsujihara.
“Kevin will be a great leader,” Bewkes said. He added praise for Rosenblum and Robinov, but also noted there is a solid bench of executives under both of them. “We’ve got a really strong next generation.” Bewkes has been criticized in some circles for his handling of the Meyer transition, which played out over two years and created a lot of tension at Warner Bros.
Bewkes also downplayed speculation the studio is at risk of losing its relationship with production and financing outfit Legendary Entertainment, which has become a source of hit movies, including “The Dark Knight” and “The 300.” Legendary’s deal with Warner Bros. is up at the end of the year.
“There is not contentiousness, there is problem-solving going on,” he said, before adding “we’re confident in our ability to generate a robust slate of films regardless of Legendary."
For the fourth quarter of 2012, profits rose at Time Warner by 51% to $1.17 billion compared to $773 million for the same period in 2011. Revenue for the quarter was flat at $8.2 billion. Struggles at Time Inc., which is cutting its staff by 6%, led to a $60-million charge at that unit.
Time Warner’s cable programming unit saw a 5% increase in revenue to $3.7 billion for the quarter. Subscription fees were up 7% and ad revenue improved by 3%. At Warner Bros., revenue fell 4% to $3.7 billion. The fourth quarter of 2012 included the home entertainment release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”
Time Warner also said it would buy back $4 billion in stock in 2013. Last year, it bought back $3.3 billion of its stock.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.