Peter Kafka

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Fighting Words! Time Warner Says Comcast/NBCU as Dumb as…Time Warner/AOL.

bewkesJust in case anyone thought Time Warner had any lingering interest in NBC Universal, this ought to put it to rest: Time Warner (TWX) CEO Jeff Bewkes just compared the proposed Comcast/NBCU deal with the disastrous one his company made with AOL nearly a decade ago.

At a TVWeek conference in Manhattan, Bewkes repeated arguments he has made in the past: Chiefly, that big media mergers have a lousy track record and that he couldn’t see how Comcast (CMCSA) could unlock any value by buying a majority stake in NBC Universal from GE (GE).

“Somebody has finally noticed that these things don’t work out so well,” he said, adding “We love to see our competitors taking risks.”

But just to hammer that point home, Bewkes compared the proposed deal to the one his company made nine years ago when it embarked on an ill-fated merger with AOL. That deal (made when Bewkes was running Time Warner’s HBO unit)  “basically made no sense” at the time, he said.

The main talking point in favor of that transaction–that connecting Time Warner’s content with AOL’s Internet distribution would create synergy–was “nonsensical,” he said. But “these kind of arguments, you’ll hear some of them this week, in the other merger that we’ve been talking about,” Bewkes said.

Clear enough?

Wall Street, by the way, remains unimpressed with the proposed deal as well: Comcast shares are down about 10 percent since word got out.

In other reiteration news, Bewkes also said, again, that he doesn’t plan on selling his Time Inc. publishing unit. Though he left himself a tiny window of wiggling room by noting that “no public company can ever say that it wouldn’t consider restructuring some part, whether it’s Warner, HBO, whatever.”

But Bewkes insisted that Time Inc.’s best-known magazine brands, including “Time, People, Sports Illustrated, InStyle,” are holding their own as print products and that the challenge will be turning them into online successes.

“We have basically a healthy business in terms of our relationship with readers. These brands mean something and they’re evolving…,” he said. “If you can’t take the leading titles that people have known for decades, and use the new world to make them relevant, really, shame on us.”


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work