Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes was in rare form on this morning's earnings call, making his traditional pitch for higher affiliate fees, greater appreciation of the company's films and TV shows—and, of course, piracy.
Yes, in response to a question about whether the network kinda-sorta regards the extensive theft of HBO's flagship show, Game of Thrones, as a compliment, Bewkes said, "I have to admit it, I think you're right." The much-discussed fantasy series is HBO's most popular, and "if you go to people who are watching it without subs, it's a tremendous word-of-mouth thing," the exec told investors. "We've been dealing with this for 20, 30 years—people sharing subs, running wires down the backs of apartment buildings. Our experience is that it leads to more paying subs. I think you're right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world," he said. "That's better than an Emmy."
Bewkes also took on the again-popular speculation on a la carte cable programming. He said he didn't think it would happen, but if it did, "we do think some of the weaker networks or network groups would fail." He admitted that there could be a shift to smaller cable packages, but he said he thought Time Warner would be well-equipped to deal with those.
Earnings were up significantly over analyst predictions, with revenue at some $7.74 billion—exceeding the expected $7.11 billion. Execs said upfront growth at Turner was solid, in addition to the major revenue driver: the film division, which saw unexpectedly high incomes from Man of Steel in particular. The exec also said that the upcoming spinoff of flagging publishing division Time, Inc. would be delayed until next year. The tumultuous deal has been the catalyst for a very involved game of musical executive chairs in recent weeks (check out Lucia Moses' full coverage for more).
"Our portfolio of entertainment-oriented networks obtained CPM increases in the high single digits," Bewkes said. He also called for higher affiliate fees across the board and said that newly negotiated gains in sub fees would realize greater revenue as they kicked in during the coming months.
CNN, too, was the subject of much discussion—Bewkes praised network head Jeff Zucker for turning the cable news channel's fortunes around and said that "it's worth a lot more in affiliate rates than it's getting."