UBS: TW chief warms up to Netflix

Jeff Bewkes sez netcaster can 'add value' to H'w'd wares

Netflix seems to have a lot more friends in big media now than it did this time last year.

“Netflix is our friend,” said Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes at the UBS Global Media and Communications confab in Gotham Tuesday, echoing comments earlier in the day by CBS chief Leslie Moonves.

Bewkes backtracked on some scathing comments he made about the video service at the same event a year ago when he compared Netflix to “the Albanian army going to take over the world.”

“The Albanian army did actually take over the world,” he said. “Alexander the Great. Close enough.” He got a laugh but left Wall Streeters scratching their head. “Alexander was Macedonian,” explained one investor.

Netflix is “a service that can definitely add value to all of us if it’s a window that’s not the current window,” Bewkes said. “Not that they couldn’t have the current windows, but those things cost a lot of money.”

Bewkes’ appreciation for Netflix was no doubt heightened by the output deal that Warner Bros. and CBS inked in October for CW programming. In one fell swoop, the deal shored up the bottom line for the netlet that is a joint venture of the Eye and WB.

A year ago was a dreamy time for Netflix before pricing changes and other strategic snafus alienated subscribers and got the company and CEO Reed Hastings pilloried. The company has since set up shop in Latin America, Canada and the U.K. and continues to ink output deals as well as embarking on its own original content.

Bewkes also said Time Warner is about to formally announce the hotly awaited Harry Potter theme park deal with Comcast’s Universal Studios. “Got to your watch, not your calendar.”

Warner Bros. and Universal Studios are bringing a second version of “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” to Universal Hollywood. The first hugely successful iteration opened the summer of 2010 at Islands of Adventure in Orlando.

Bewkes said the attraction allows the studio to continue capitalizing on the multi-billion dollar franchise that has run its course in theaters after eight pics. Coming up, he’s looking to “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” “The Hobbit” and “The Dark Knight Rises” for more franchise coin.

Publishing at Time Inc., which has a new head as of last week in former digital advertising exec Laura Lang, has stabilized. “I think it can definitely grow. Readership has held in,” he said. Adding video to magazines like Sports Illustrated on tablets may help revive the hard-hit sector.

And he said Time Warner is still open to acquisitions if there’s not too risky and accretive to earnings. The company recently made a run at European reality TV powerhouse Endemol but the indebted company rejected the $1.4 billion offer.

Bewkes said viewership of HBO with the new HBO Go is up 30% to 50%. But he noted that the number is still too early to call for the service, which lets subs watch shows on any device, any time. “We have to wait and see what the average subscriber does versus early adopters,” he said. It hasn’t yet boosted subscriptions to the pay cabler.

Bewkes said advertising rates for the flagship basic cable networks TNT and TBS, which have been hit a ratings slump of late, are looking stronger for the first quarter than they are in the current fourth quarter but didn’t give any figures.