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Time Warner Chief: Character Development Makes Superhero Movies Popular

Jeff Bewkes doesn’t sound like a comicbook guy, but the Time Warner chief thinks he understands why superhero movies are resonating with audiences. It’s not just because advances in special effects are making it easier for people to believe a man can fly.

“We used to go see ‘Casablanca,’ we made it by the way, and now we’re [seeing] ‘Superman 6,'” said Bewkes during an interview at the UBS Global Media & Communications Conference on Tuesday.

Time Warner has had its share of comicbook movie successes, such as “The Dark Knight” trilogy and “Man of Steel,” and the company is banking heavily on the genre, announcing an ambitious slate of films based on DC Comics characters that should take up much of what remains of the current decade.

“A lot of what people loved about them wasn’t really when they were in the costumes,” he said.

“If you do good writing, good character development, these things are actually able to be part of the real world,” he added, presumably alluding to the way Christopher Nolan’s Batman films dissected issues such as terrorism and economic inequality.

The talk, during which a punchy Bewkes fielded questions about everything from the rise of digital viewership to Time Warner’s decision to spurn 21st Century Fox’s takeover bid last summer, picked up the theme that the digital landscape is becoming more fractured, requiring companies to become more flexible in how they offer their content. It’s a mantra that has been repeated ad nauseam during the investor conference, and it’s part of the reason that Time Warner’s crown jewel, HBO, recently announced plans to deliver a broadband-only service in 2015.

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“We shouldn’t leave 10 million broadband-only homes with no access to HBO,” said Bewkes.

He suggested that making HBO a digital proposition won’t imperil the cable business, noting that companies like Netflix have been around for a long time and there are still 100 million U.S. homes with pay TV. Making programming available in an on-demand capacity is fueling the smallscreen renaissance that has helped edgy programs such as “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” find audiences while unspooling complex narrative, he argued.

“That is what has brought the vitality back to programming,” said Bewkes, calling television the “bow of the ship” when it comes to programming innovation.

The migration to Hulu and other online platforms may dent the advertising market for broadcast and cable television, however. To that end, television must do a better job of capturing the data of its audience much as Silicon Valley titans like Google have done for years.

“TV needs to add analytics and targeting,” said Bewkes.

The Time Warner chief also defended the company’s decision not to join forces with 21st Century Fox, a move that some analysts saw as an important way to broaden the company’s negotiating leverage at a time when digital giants seem to have more fire power and cable providers continue to consolidate.

The company has sufficient scale, Bewkes said, noting that getting bigger is not always better. Adding weaker channels and brands to a portfolio doesn’t increase efficiency or nimbleness and might only dilute the value of its other offerings, he said.

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