Parsons eyes global growth

Chairman-CEO to be honored as Personality of the Year

The way Time Warner’s Richard Parsons sees it, most of the growth for media congloms over the next decade will come from their international businesses.

The company’s chairman-CEO, who will appear in Cannes midweek to be honored as Mipcom’s Personality of the Year, believes that there are both sizable opportunities abroad and tricky challenges facing media players.

Parsons is bullish on the prospects for new media platforms abroad, even if the press has been somewhat breathless over those opportunities, as though they had already become robust revenue generators. Not so as yet, he says.

“New media presents enormous opportunities for our business, but these changes will happen over time,” Parsons says. “New digital broadband technology will enable us to essentially ‘fly over’ traditional distribution infrastructures, which I think will open up the international market at a pace not before seen, especially in some of the emerging markets.”

Already TW has established a potentially lucrative beachhead with digital download deals in Germany and with mobile phone players in Europe and Japan.

Parsons joins an impressive list of global moguls who have received the Mipcom honor over the years, including Ted Turner, Sumner Redstone, Roberto Marinho, Silvio Berlusconi and Peter Chernin. Parsons — soft-spoken but articulate, with a bemused sense of humor — is being recognized for his achievement in righting the listing conglom after its financially disastrous merger with AOL in 2000 and subsequently for boosting the results at its film, TV and cable units and expanding the company’s global reach.

More recently, Parsons has parried efforts by maverick shareholder Carl Icahn to sell off some TW component parts in order to boost the stock price.

Parsons’ view, as expressed to Wall Streeters on various occasions, is that the stock is simply undervalued and that savvy deals on the content side will eventually be reflected in the share price.

In other remarks, the company topper says TW would put efforts into both establishing “more robust” carriage deals for its cable channels abroad, and in developing more customized content offshoots from the product the company already distributes. There are a lot of possibilities with short-form programming models, for handheld devices and the like, which TW is looking at, Parsons points out.

On the programming front, he said TW was jumping on the local production bandwagon, and is boosting its efforts in that area in places as far-flung as India — where Pogo is a prime example of a localized product that was spawned by TW’s own Cartoon Network — and movie deals in most of the key European territories.

“We need to evolve that business,” Parsons says. On the other hand, he emphasizes, the product that TW divisions are turning out on the TV front — series from Jerry Bruckheimer, John Wells and Aaron Sorkin, for example — are highly desirable to foreign broadcasters and, to his mind, are not likely to dry up on overseas skeds.

The business of licensing primetime series and feature films to foreign broadcasters is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion a year to TW.

“I see the localized product as supplemental, not a substitution for the traditional content we provide,” Parsons says.

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