TW toasts ‘best year’ in ’97

Stock jumped 65% after years of stagnant performance

Time Warner Inc. enjoyed “the best year in its history” in 1997, Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin declared in the company’s annual report, released Thursday, noting “outstanding” operating results for most TW businesses.

In a glowing account of the year, when TW’s stock price jumped 65% after several years of stagnant performance, Levin said the first full year of Turner Broadcasting System ownership showed that TBS’ “array of leading basic cable networks is every bit the vital strategic addition we thought it would be.”

Levin described vice chairman Ted Turner as “among the most valuable assets it brought us.” Turner, Levin added, “is leading the Cable Networks group into a new era of growth.”

The only two areas of disappointment for Time Warner last year were Warner Bros.’ performance at the box office, which Levin described as “lackluster,” and Warner Music’s earnings downturn. Levin said Warner Bros.’ success in posting its 15th record profit, despite disappointments at the box office, “is proof of the breadth and depth of its assets.”

Levin observed that “the environment for music … remained a tough one,” but he said that the Music Group “is focused on bolstering the foundation of its competitive strength” in the coming year.

Time Warner changed the format of its annual report this year, including interviews with divisional chiefs on the main issues confronting their businesses. In an interview with Warner Bros. chairmen and co-CEOs Bob Daly and Terry Semel, Daly said Warner Bros. had “fulfilled our original gameplan to build a broad-based entertainment company that doesn’t rely on any one business in any given year.”

As for plans for music, Semel said, “Our biggest priority is to continue to sign new artists all over the world.”

He also noted that Warner Music had made “numerous management changes at both our international and domestic companies, and we’ll continue to do so where change is warranted.”

Time Warner stock closed down $1.06 to $73.37 Thursday.

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