Bewkes looks past summer ‘dogs’

Studio blames bombs for fallen expectations

Time Warner chief operating officer Jeff Bewkes acknowledged the conglom’s film biz has come in “slightly below our expectations” this year “because there were three dogs over the summer.”

“First of all, would you have made ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ again? I saw that the first time,” he told hundreds of investors at the UBS media conference in Gotham on Wednesday.

The fourth quarter has been brighter thanks to the success of Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and the blockbuster toon “Happy Feet.” Bewkes also predicted that “Blood Diamond,” which opens Friday, “is going to be a successful movie.”

Looking to 2007, he touted “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the next “Harry Potter” and New Line’s “His Dark Materials” — a trilogy starting with “The Golden Compass.”

“It won’t be another ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but it could be a nice solid thing. And if it is, we have three of them,” he said. “We’re feeling good about next year.”

In any case, “We have much more of other people’s money financing our slate — except ‘Harry Potter,’ ” he added.

He said HBO will be squeezed next year by new investment in programming and broadband, and tough comps on the syndication front. “It’s not a trend issue,” he stressed.

He said there would likely be an HBO broadband offering in partnership with Time Warner Cable next year.

On AOL, Bewkes said the Netco’s former chief, Jon Miller, lost his job to NBC Universal exec Randy Falco because “we wanted to kick it up to a higher level of management capability.”

He said AOL’s dramatic transition, announced in August, from paid to free “is going exactly as we thought” — and it’s going well.

Bewkes said 85% of subs who disconnected to move to a high-speed service are taking their free AOL accounts with them, and their use of page views is holding at 100%. Advertising revenue is reflecting that, up more than 40%.

“We will end the year for the first time (in a long time) with as many users as we started with,” Bewkes said.

In response to a question, Bewkes said AOL wants to beef up its social- networking traffic and didn’t rule out buying a social-networking site. Given AOL’s reach, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be a leader in social networking,” he said.

But he said — as did Time Warner chairman-CEO Richard Parsons on Tuesday — that AOL needs the tools to be able to monetize the “traffic” it would gain from such an acquisition. It’s looking at advertising technology companies that can do that.

Bewkes didn’t exclude eventually opening up AOL to other investors, or the public market, but not anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t say that now. There’s too much upside,” he said.

He added that there will be much more clarity on AOL’s progress by the middle of next year. “Then you can judge for yourselves. You won’t need me to tell you,” he promised.

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, is on track to go public, selling 16% of its stock in an IPO. TW is expected to sell more down the road — although Bewkes said it wouldn’t be in 2007.

Bewkes wouldn’t comment on continued speculation that TWC will make a run for Cablevision, which the Dolan family is trying to take private.

But he said TWC could indeed look to expand its footprint. He noted that the regulatory environment has been relatively relaxed in recent years and, as a result, going forward, “It could be, if a property comes up, (larger rival) Comcast couldn’t buy it. That’s good for us.”