Jeff Bewkes probably rues the day he agreed to sit down with Charlie Rose for an interview last week: The Time Warner CEO spent much of this morning’s quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts explaining what many of his answers meant -- especially his apparent about-face in saying that he now welcomes Netflix’s effort to become an online programming service.
“I’ve tried at times to be humorous,” says Bewkes, who once likened Netflix to the Albanian Army trying to take over the world. For those who didn’t get the joke about welcoming Netflix, he says that he thinks it’s fine for the Web service to buy lots of old TV re-run “That’s good for everybody.”
But that doesn’t mean he wants Netflix to serve as an inexpensive alternative to traditional cable networks including HBO. He’s against having a subscription video service that would “devalue the content.”
Bewkes says he isn’t concerned yet about cable and satellite customers cancelling their pay TV service in favor of Netflix and free programming from over-the-air broadcasters.
“We don’t think U.S. consumers want less choice,” he says. That’s why he’s “open to the idea” of renting more Warner Bros programming to Netflix as well as other services that are “rustling around in the forest.”
As for his statement that Time Warner was likely to exceed expectations, Bewkes says that was “taken a little out of context.” He simply meant that the company “will continue to grow steadily over the long run.” Rose “wasn’t asking about this quarter. He isn’t a financial analyst.”
On other matters, Bewkes defended Time Warner’s costly decision to pick up some of the broadcast rights that CBS had to NCAA basketball championship games -- which contributed to anemic 1Q profit growth at the Turner cable networks. “We think this is going to be a profitable deal over time,” Bewkes says.