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Time Warner Chief Jeff Bewkes on DC Comics Movies: ‘There’s a Little Room for Improvement’

Time Warner chairman-CEO Jeff Bewkes told investors Wednesday that there is “a little room for improvement” in the creative execution of Warner Bros.’ DC Comics movie slate. But he stressed that the two titles released to date have been financially successful and have achieved the larger strategic goal of reinvigorating classic DC characters for a new generation of moviegoers.

Referencing the lukewarm critical response to this year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” Bewkes admitted during his Q&A at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia investor conference: “The DC Comics characters … have a little more lightness in them than maybe what you saw in those movies, so we’re thinking about that.”

Bewkes said the studio has enlisted DC Comics entertainment president Geoff Johns and production guru Jon Berg to take a firm hand in guiding the upcoming DC releases. But he sees no reversal in Warner Bros.’ ambitious plan for releasing a string of DC-branded tentpoles through 2020, with “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” to come next year.

“The strategy worked,” Bewkes said. “The execution did deliver what we wanted to do. We can do a little better on the creative. … We’re right on course or better” with the plan, he said, citing “Suicide Squad’s” legs at the box office. To date the pic released in August has grabbed about $720 million at the worldwide box office.

“The main thing was to launch DC and reinvigorate it with the fan base,” he said. “The reboot of Batman with Ben Affleck (in the role) was a big success.” He also noted that the fan reaction to actress Gal Gadot’s debut as the Wonder Woman character in “Batman v Superman” has been positive.

Bewkes also addressed the transformations underway at TNT and TBS, which are looking to draw a younger audience with shows that have more traction in social media than the broadcast TV-like strategy pursued in the past. He cited TBS’ new entries “Wrecked” and “Detour” as cable TV’s highest rated comedies with solid critical buzz being “exactly what we were aiming for.”

TNT is on mission to add edge to its dramas, starting with the mob family drama “Animal Kingdom,” which bowed in June and has been renewed for a second season. “You’re going to see more shows like that on TNT over the next year or so,” he said.

HBO’s focus is on growing its broadband-only business and a series of MVPD carriage renegotiations on deck over the next 18 months. Bewkes said an update on subscriber figures for the stand-alone HBO Now service would come at the end of this year.

In general, Bewkes said he was upbeat about the prospects for Time Warner’s biggest channels to continue to grow as the distribution landscape evolves in the coming years. New digital entrants such as Dish Network’s Sling and Hulu’s upcoming channel package will only enhance the value of Time Warner’s biggest brands. Time Warner took a 10% stake Hulu earlier this year, for $583 million, in connection with its agreement to be part of Hulu’s channel offering.

Moreover, the digital services are focused on providing cutting-edge navigational systems and easy-to-use on-demand features. The influx of competition is forcing the traditional distributors to offer more varieties of packages, which will improve the experience and hopefully lead to higher retention rates.

“We have tried to be at the forefront of that — helping existing distributors enhance what they are doing and helping the new distributors, which we think are a great opportunity for everybody,” he said.

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