Time Warner Inches Along

Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) reported first-quarter earnings today, and as usual, this media giant gave investors plenty to chew on between the fortunes at its cable unit and the continued slalom ride of its AOL unit.

Time Warner's first-quarter net income increased by just 1% to $963 million, or $0.20 per share. Total sales increased 3% to $10.5 billion, which the company attributed to growth in its cable, publishing and networks segments.

The company said that free cash flow is strong and that it has pared debt by about $1 billion to just more than $15 billion. It's currently using the nearly $1 billion from the sale of its stake in Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) to reduce that debt still more. (However, investors might want to remember that Time Warner has previously said that it expects to partially finance the coming transaction for Adelphia (OTC BB: ADELQ) with $11 billion in additional debt.)

For those dying to hear how AOL has been doing -- and that's always one of the most interesting topics of conversation regarding Time Warner, despite the fact that it's oh-so-much more than just AOL -- there's still little reason to suppose that the unit's challenges have gotten any easier given today's numbers. Overall AOL revenues decreased 3%.

Although AOL's advertising revenues gave the unit a boost (they increased by 45%), there was still an 8% decrease in subscription sales. Despite those entertaining commercials that seem to be on the airwaves constantly, AOL users continue to defect. Membership is down 10% to 21.7 million -- 2.3 million less than during the same quarter last year.

On the other hand, the bright spot seemed to be Time Warner's cable operations, where sales climbed 10%. Those of you who keep abreast of current news know that the company, along with cable giant Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) , is jointly acquiring the assets of bankrupt cable play Adelphia. That deal should give Time Warner a little bit more of a growth driver going forward (and remove Comcast's involvement in Time Warner's cable operations).

When it comes to movies, Time Warner's coming attractions include summer films that seem to have a lot of star power, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Batman Begins. The fall release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire could be a big hit; the new Harry Potter book launching this summer should fan the flames of the usual Potter mania.

It still seems that Time Warner's AOL unit continues its bleed, although things may have started to settle down at the media giant. That dial-up seems increasingly old hat remains a major challenge, even with cable as a catalyst in other parts of the business. Given the challenges, there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason to stock up on shares at the moment.

For more on Time Warner, see the following Foolish content:

Time Warner is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. To learn what other companies David and Tom Gardner choose on a monthly basis, try it for six months, risk-free -- clickherefor more information.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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