TW board gets boost

Shareholders give thumbs-up as AOL touts gains

As they gathered at Time Warner’s annual meeting Friday on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, company shareholders couldn’t have been more tranquil, especially compared with previous years.

All 13 members of the conglom’s board were re-elected with a vote of more than 90% of shareholders.

That includes America Online co-founder and former Time Warner chairman Steve Case, who received the lowest show of support at 93%.

Case was re-elected by only 78% of shareholder votes last year; his former lieutenant Miles Gilburne, who also remains on Time Warner’s board, was re-elected by only a 65% margin that year.

The new vote of confidence comes as AOL appears to be turning around.

During the two-hour session with shareholders, Time Warner chairman-CEO Richard Parsons stressed that the company believes that the worst is behind AOL and that it would produce robust results in the future, saying that it is “an engine for growth.”

“We think we have it stabilized,” Parsons said. “AOL is in the process of righting itself. We’re very pleased with the progress we’re making.”

Parsons dismissed speculation that Time Warner was looking to sell off AOL, which has 24 million paying subscribers.

In fact, Parsons said nothing “of significance” will be shed from the company anytime soon, and now that the conglom’s debt load has been reduced to less than $20 billion, it is examining ways to bolster its existing assets through investments or acquisitions.

Conglom is looking to grow Time Warner Cable beyond its current 10.9 million subs. Parsons said that Time Warner would be “closely monitoring” Adelphia as a potential acquisition.

“We’re interested in expanding our presence in cable,” he said.

Parsons expressed a message of optimism across the board for all of Time Warner’s other divisions, ranging from motion pictures to television to publishing.

Regarding Warner Bros., Parsons stressed that 2004 is a “Harry Potter” year — “The Prisoner of Azkaban” promises to equal the previous two installments as a player at the B.O.

Parsons also said that “we’re very pleased with ‘Troy,’ ” predicting that it would double or triple its U.S. tally overseas. The $175 million pic drew $46.9 million domestically in its first weekend. “We think ‘Troy’ will be a success. ‘Troy’s’ going to do just fine.”

While discussions have not taken place yet, Parson said after the meeting that Time Warner would “love to have a close relationship with Pixar.”

Topper also stressed that Time Warner would not jump in and try to acquire MGM, despite recent speculation that the conglom could become a suitor for the Lion.

Overall, meeting featured less rancor than in previous years.

Questions asked by those among the 500 shareholders in attendance at the Steven J. Ross Theater seemed to be favorable and supportive of the moves Time Warner’s management has been making.

That’s in stark contrast to last year’s meeting, when shareholders expressed unrest over the conglom’s declining stock price and AOL’s disappointing performance following the 2001 merger of America Online and Time Warner.

The Hollywood setting may have helped. Shareholders posed for photos with Warner Bros. characters Scooby Doo, Tweetie Bird and Bugs Bunny before the meeting and piled onto golf carts to tour the studio lot afterward.

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