Media giant Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) has had a disappointing 2015: Shares of the firm are down upwards of 24% year to date. The steady decline of the traditional cable bundle seems to have taken a toll on Time Warner's results, and forced it to boost its investments in next-generation distribution technology. Still, many of its businesses are showing promise.
On the company's most recent earnings call, CEO Jeff Bewkes, CFO Howard Averill, and CEO of HBO Richard Plepler spoke about the current trends affecting Time Warner's business. Here are five of the most important quotes from that earnings call.
On making the cable bundle more attractive
Time Warner's Turner business, which includes its cable networks -- TBS, TNT, CNN, among others -- generated just over one-third of its revenue last quarter, and more than half of its adjusted operating income. This is somewhat of a challenge for the firm, as a growing number of consumers are choosing to forgo traditional cable packages in favor of online alternatives. During the call, Bewkes talked about how the company planned to make its cable networks more attractive.
"Given ongoing shifts in consumer behavior, we think it's important to provide even more on-demand content as part of our network offerings...we're evaluating whether to retain our [content] rights for a longer period of time and forego or delay certain content licensing. This would effectively push the SVOD window for content on our networks to a multi-year period more consistent with traditional syndication...[also] we're also looking for opportunities to reduce our ad loads...truTV will cut its ad load in half for prime time original shows starting late next year. Over time, we think a better viewing experience will help drive higher viewership and enhance the value proposition of our networks."
Using DC to capitalize on video games and films
In recent years, Walt Disney has had noted success monetizing its ownership of Marvel, using a steady stream of comic book heroes in its films and merchandise. Time Warner owns DC Comics, Marvel's most significant rival, and it has similar ambitions. During the call, Bewkes discussed how DC was helping Time Warner's video game business, and how it would help its merchandise and film sales in the quarters to come.
"DC's IP was...a significant contributor to our video games business, which through the end of the third quarter, is the number one U.S. publisher this year...we launched LEGO Dimensions, which counts Lego, Batman and many of its DC counterparts among its cast of characters...We think it's going to be a big hit this holiday season and the next big game franchise...On the movie side, the countdown has started for March's blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will be followed by...DC's Suicide Squad. DC is a key part of Warner's growth strategy and in recent years has had tremendous success in both television and games. The next stage of growth for DC will be in film, which is also a critical driver in our plans to further expand our consumer products business."
Time Warner has expected to earn about an adjusted $6 per share next year, but trimmed its guidance during the call. Averill offered up new guidance and gave an explanation for the shift.
"By far the most significant [negative] factor is [foreign exchange]...We expect to have a...[impact] of approximately $0.50 on adjusted EPS compared to our expectations when we put our plan in place last year...We have also identified some additional investments we believe are critical to our long-term success. We recognize the video ecosystem is rapidly evolving...We've decided to invest even more aggressively in our businesses with a focus on content, capabilities and enhancing the consumer experience...Taking into account those additional investments, we think 2016 adjusted EPS is more likely to be around $5.25, but as I mentioned we're still working through our budget process. So other factors could influence our outlook to either the upside or downside."
Still happy with the Amazon deal
Last year, Time Warner signed a deal with Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). Under the terms of the deal, Time Warner's HBO original series would make their way to Amazon's Prime Video service after a three-year delay. The deal seemed beneficial for Amazon, as it would make Prime Video more attractive to subscribers, and beneficial to Time Warner, as it gained another way to monetize its HBO content. But earlier this year, HBO announced HBO Now, a streaming service of its own, independent of traditional cable providers, and somewhat of a competitor to Amazon's Prime Video. During the call, Plepler explained that, despite this shift in strategy, Time Warner was still happy with the deal.
"A large percentage of Amazon Prime [subscribers] were not HBO [subscribers]. And we thought it was a terrific way -- it's a three-year-old window...just [to make that] clear -- we thought it was just a great way for people to have a chance to sample our programming, to have the HBO experience and we think that was a catalyst to driving people to subscribing [to HBO]. It's been a terrific relationship. We're now, as you know, expanding our relationship, have expanded our relationship with Amazon [by bringing HBO Now to the] Amazon Fire [TV platform] and we like it because we think it exposes HBO to more people and drives them to the network. So we think it's been a positive thing."
No value in a breakup
For years, some analysts have wondered whether Time Warner would be better broken up. HBO, as a stand-alone business, could be especially attractive to investors. When asked about the possibility on the call, Bewkes dismissed it, insisting that Time Warner was best run as a single firm.
"I don't think there's any benefit to...any kind of separation. In fact, I think because we've now gotten our businesses [Turner, HBO, Warner Bros.] into the ones that we think work best together, both in strategic planning, in global distribution, in global sourcing of leading projects...attracting creators, whether film, TV shows...these are huge advantages for Time Warner. ...We wouldn't split any of this up. We think it belongs together and it gives us an advantage relative to our competitors."