Time Warner’s Bewkes: ‘No no, after you Brian’
If you’ve ever listened to Time Warner chief executive Jeffrey Bewkes speak, you’ll be used to his breezy, languid style. But he sounded even more so than usual on Friday at a conference in Washington D.C. when asked about the big media story of the year so far: Comcast’s bid to take control of NBC Universal.
Comcast’s bid, led by CEO Brian Roberts, is exactly the opposite of what Bewkes has been doing at Time Warner, where rather than buying he’s spun off the cable assets and hopes to do the same with AOL by the end of this year. So Bewkes couldn’t resist a little jab at his rival and sometimes partner:
“I don’t want to say anything that would discourage Brian from continuing in this pursuit that he has,” Bewkes said to laughter from the audience.
Bewkes agreed with suggestions that Comcast might be doing this for a share in the growing cable business.
“They may have concerns about their future in cable and they may want to hedge into what they think is a better long-term business, which is the branded content business. It’s a good business, it’s one that everybody should want to get in. We’re in it, we’re very nicely placed in it.”
But the executive who lived through one of the worst corporate mergers of all time — AOL-Time Warner — is far less supportive of the idea of big combinations, especially in the media space.
“It’s probably true if you look at media deals — not just ours — in the entire industry. In the last 10 or 15 years there’s a lower percentage of deals that have delievered what they said they were going to deliver and have had an actual return on investment versus what you would find in other more rationally based businesses where you don’t call the CEO ‘a mogul’. So whoever that is doesn’t get lost thinking about what they’re going to write in tomorrow’s paper.”
And while many journalists, investors and Wall Street analysts continue to try to decide whether this deal makes sense, Bewkes has a simple test.
“If it’s a synergy idea that takes a week and nine articles to fully plumb the mysterious depths, you’re probably wrong.”
Nice to know someone feels our pain.