Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes says that Warner Bros. is poised to bounce back after a disappointing 2015.
The media mogul predicted that the studio would turn the corner on a series of flops, such as “Jupiter Ascending” and “Pan,” by offering moviegoers a steady diet of comic book movies and sequels, calling out upcoming films like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the “Harry Potter” spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
“We’re really excited about the slate,” he said at Tuesday’s UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, adding, “Next year we’re going to be shifting more to the very numerous number of big franchise film releases.”
He was particularly bullish about “Wonder Woman,” a 2017 DC Comics adaptation that he argued will break new ground for a type of film that caters heavily to fanboys.
“We think this could bring an under-represented female audience to this genre that frankly has not been served well in the past and that could be exciting,” he said.
While Bewkes seemed eager to tout upcoming films about costumed heroes, he was more reticent on the topic of media deals. He declined to comment on reports that Hulu is in talks to sell a stake to Time Warner. He did, however, praise the streaming service, noting that many cable companies have issues with their user interfaces that hinders on-demand viewing. They are cumbersome to use and should be streamlined, he maintained.
“Hulu is a pretty good service,” said Bewkes. “It would be nice if they could help with this interface problem.”
Bewkes also cited Comcast as an example of a company that had created a more intuitive experience that should be a model for the industry. Because it can be hard for viewers to find programming, Bewkes said he agreed with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent comments that television was “broken.”
“Tim is right,” he said.
If Warner Bros., the once dominant movie studio that has slipped behind Universal and Disney in terms of market share, is a black mark on Time Warner’s year, Bewkes couldn’t heap enough praise on HBO. New programs, such as the rock drama “Vinyl” from producer Martin Scorsese and the Sarah Jessica Parker comedy “Divorce,” will augment the premium channel’s slate of shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Veep,” he said.
The television business has become more crowded, Bewkes acknowledged. Companies like Netflix and Amazon have found success while fielding award-winning shows such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent.” While paying lip-service to the competitive pressures, Bewkes argued that HBO has a reputation for quality that serves it well with the creative community and a willingness to loosen the purse strings when warranted.
“We do not underestimate any one with a giant checkbook,” said Bewkes, adding, “HBO has a very adequate budget of a billion dollars a year for originals. We plan to have it grow.”
One bidding war that Bewkes hinted Time Warner won’t be all in on is the upcoming fight for the rights to broadcast Thursday Night Football. Time Warner’s Turner networks broadcast baseball and basketball, but the NFL games, and the high price tag they will invariably demand, might not make financial sense, Bewkes said.
“We’re interested in the NFL,” he said. “It’s terrific programming, but we don’t have to have it.”
The Time Warner chief admitted that the media landscape is changing. Viewers are migrating from traditional pay-TV services to digital offerings. But content will prevail he claimed.
He also offered one final piece of sage advice to the investor-heavy crowd: “Watch more TV.”