Jeff Bewkes inks 5-year pact with Time Warner

Extension keeps CEO at helm of conglom through 2017

Time Warner chairman-CEO Jeff Bewkes has inked a five-year contract extension that will keep him at the media giant’s helm through 2017 with some high-profile executive appointments to be made, possible deals on the horizon and the ongoing challenge of retooling publisher Time Inc.

Bewkes, 60, has promised to name a new leader for troubled CNN before the end of the year.

And an awkward bakeoff between three execs at Warner Bros. needs to be resolved well before studio chief Barry Meyer’s contract expires at the end of next year. In a Hollywood nail-biter, Bewkes is expected to choose a replacement for Meyer from among the trio of TV chief Bruce Rosenblum, motion picture prexy Jeff Robinov and home entertainment topper Kevin Tsujihara.

In addition Bewkes continues to push an international expansion plan at Time Warner.

Stephen Bollenbach, the lead independent director on TW’s board, praised Bewkes in a statement Tuesday, calling him “a proven visionary when it comes to navigating the digital landscape.” Bewkes was a pioneer of TV Everywhere, rolling out HBO Go well ahead of rivals’ equivalent efforts.

“Since becoming CEO in 2008, he has led the transformation of the company into a content-focused powerhouse while at the same time significantly increasing shareholder value,” Bollenbach said.

Time Warner, like other media giants, has been buying up millions of dollars worth of stock. But the company may start to use its cash on deals if it finds the right targets. It made a bid for major Dutch TV group Endemol a year ago that didn’t pan out. The company, Bewkes says, is constantly on the lookout for international acquisitions. But the disastrous 2001 merger with AOL has generally kept it gun shy about big deals.

With the contract extension, Bewkes’ base salary and bonus target will remain unchanged. The company said annual long-term incentive awards “are tied directly and solely to future financial and shareholder returns.”

Bewkes earned $25.9 million in 2011, including $2 million in salary and a bonus of $13.5 million.

“I appreciate (the board’s) confidence in me and in the strategy we have formulated to drive the company’s growth,” Bewkes said. “With Time Warner’s exceptional management team, we have created some of the most compelling content in the world, we have led the way in developing new business models that capitalize on emerging consumer trends, we’ve expanded our reach internationally, and we’ve improved the operating and the capital efficiency of the company. I’m even more confident about what we’ll achieve over the next five years.”

Bewkes was named prexy-CEO in 2008 and was upped to chairman in 2009. He ran the powerhouse HBO division from 1995 until 2002, when he was drafted amid the post-AOL merger chaos to corporate exec ranks as chairman of Time Warner’s entertainment and networks group and then as prexy and COO.