Levin vows to lift TW

NEW YORK — Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin promised shareholders Thursday he has a “firm and disciplined financial plan” for the entertainment giant that will lift returns to shareholders in excess of those offered by the broader market, after years of “inadequate” returns.

And for once Levin was able to buttress his argument by pointing to Time Warner’s closing stock price of $47.62 the previous day, an all-time high, which he said was “making a start” on fulfilling the promise. Time Warner stock fell 37¢ to $47.25 Thursday.

Appearing at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Levin faced a generally relaxed crowd. The only jarring note came in a discussion about Time Warner’s distribution of gangsta rap music, when C. Delores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, made a long, impassioned speech in which she quoted from the sexually explicit lyrics of Atlantic Records’ Lil’ Kim.

“You are responsible because you finance it and distribute it,” Tucker said. Levin could not conceal his anger during her speech, telling Tucker, “The ticket of admission for you as a shareholder does not give you the license to demean me or, by implication, my family.”

Same old thing

Only one shareholder asked about the stock price, and Levin’s answer repeated much of what he has been saying for months to institutional investors and Wall Street analysts.

He conceded that years of “assembling” assets into Time Warner’s current form had produced returns to shareholders that were “less than adequate” but said the company was now complete and focused on accelerating the return on capital.

Meanwhile, Levin said Thursday he likes the “current business plan” of sat-TV operator Primestar Partners, indicating his lack of interest in bringing in News Corp. as a new partner.

Speaking to reporters after Time Warner’s meeting, Levin said he was focused on Primestar’s plans to reorganize its partnership from a group of regional marketing plans to a more integrated service operating as a publicly traded company.

No proposal pending

He refused to comment on his opposition to News Corp.’s entry, although he confirmed having met with News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch but said Primestar has “no current proposal” from News Corp. about its possible entry.

Murdoch has been interested in joining his sat-TV efforts with Primestar after News Corp.’s alliance with EchoStar Communications Corp. collapsed earlier this month. But Time Warner is a major partner in Primestar and has made clear it will block News Corp.’s entry.

People close to TW say a combined News Corp.-Primestar might face regulatory problems, but Time Warner’s reservations are thought to be simply the residue of its public brawl with News Corp. over carriage of the Fox News Channel on TW cable systems.

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