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Time Warner surrendered its role as the world's biggest media group during 2009, spinning off two of what it had come to consider as non-core properties in order to refocus as a content business. The first to go was Time Warner Cable, demerged as an independent business that year although it continued to carry the company name until 2016. Far more significant in many ways was the year-end spin-off of AOL. That company joined the group in 2000 in a deal which came to symbolize the madness of the first dotcom era. Back then, friends and enemies alike promised that the combination of an internet company and a traditional entertainment creator would have a far-reaching effect on the way consumers accessed news, music and filmed entertainment. They were eventually proved correct of course, but not for another 15 or more years. That was too late for AOL and Time Warner. The combined giant failed spectacularly to live up to all the rhetoric, and in early 2003 AOL Time Warner recorded the biggest loss in US corporate history, almost $100bn, when it wrote off the value of its over-inflated assets, primarily America Online itself. AOL's contribution to the group continued to steadily decline, and Time Warner finally spun off the business in 2009 as a separate company. Magazine publisher Time Inc left the group in 2014. Instead, the slimmed-down former giant focused its attention solely on the the Turner and HBO cable networks and movie studio Warner Bros. By 2016, the time was finally right for a merger of content and internet-based delivery: Time Warner accepted an offer to be acquired for $85bn by AT&T. However the deal was opposed by the new Trump administration, for reasons that were not entirely clear, and became the subject of a bitter court battle. The judge found in the companies' favour and the deal went ahead as planned in June 2018. Time Warner adopted the new name of WarnerMedia.
see Media Sector Index for competitive companies
Time Warner gradually pulled itself back from the brink of disaster during the later 2000s, but the wounds caused by the merger with AOL took years to heal. The online business had long been a prime candidate for disposal. That move, which finally took place at the end of 2009, was a stunning condemnation of a deal which had cost the group billions of dollars in shareholder value. But it also removed a millstone which had hung around the necks of Time Warner's other businesses for far too long.
Analysts speculated that a rise in TW's long-suffering share price might also allow the group to bolster its international profile through acquisition in other areas, possibly computer games. No such deal materialised, and instead Time Warner became a target for other bidders. An offer from 21st Century Fox was declined in 2015. A year later, Time Warner accepted a bid from AT&T valuing the business at $85.4bn. That deal was opposed by the US Justice Department for reasons that are not entirely transparent. Some commentators accused the Trump administration of pursuing a personal vendetta against Time Warner because of its ownership of news channel CNN, a relentless critic of the new President. The AT&T deal became the subject of a bitter court case, which began in March 2018.
However, the group is now considerably smaller than it was in 2000. From 2004 onwards, the once-sprawling Time Warner empire was gradually whittled down to three semi-autonomous operating businesses, mainly responsible for the creation and distribution of filmed entertainment. Record company Warner Music was sold to a consortium led by former Seagram boss Edgar Bronfman in 2004. Time Warner Cable was spun off as a separate entity in early 2009 and was eventually acquired by smaller rival Charter; AOL followed at the end of the year, and was eventually acquired by Verizon. In early 2013, reports began to emerge that the group was exploring a divestment of its Time Inc publishing division. Talks to sell the bulk of the business to rival publisher Meredith ended without agreement, and instead the group said it would spin off Time Inc as an independent public company. That demerger finally took place in 2014. Talks with Meredith reopened in 2017, leading to the acquisition and break-up of the once mighty Time publishing empire.
The best known business within Time Warner now is the storied Warner Bros movie business (see separate profile). Revenues for 2017 rose 6% to $13.9bn, with operating income of $1.76bn.
However, the group's most profitable business by far is the Turner Broadcasting System, home to a large collection of separate cable channels, including the #1 and #2 US cable networks by adult ratings in TNT and TBS, positioned as specialists in scripted drama and comedy respectively. Both channels traditionally offered reruns of syndicated series originated by one of the major networks. Increasingly, though, since the late 2000s, they have begun generating content of their own. Top-rated original series on TNT include Rizzoli & Isles, Major Crimes, The Alienist and The Last Ship. TBS scored a notable coup during 2010 by securing the services of chatshow host Conan O'Brien, who had been ousted from NBC's Late Show earlier in the year as a result of a row over time slots. Other key original shows, past and present, include The Last OG, The Guest Book, American Dad!, Cougar Town and Sullivan & Son, as well as syndicated shows from the main networks.
Both channels also have selected sports rights. TNT has rights to NBA and NCAA basketball games as well as NASCAR and PGA golfing tournaments; TBS has rights to certain Major League Baseball games. The group acquired renowned sports and stats website BleacherReport.com in 2012.
TNT is the 2nd most expensive cable subscription in the US (behind ESPN) at a cost of $1.65 per month, according to SNL Kagan. A declared footprint of 90.4m households in Dec 2017 was equivalent to gross subscription revenues of around $1.81bn. At $0.85 per month, and distribution to 91.4m US households in 2017, TBS achieved gross subscription revenues of $960m.
They are partnered by commercial-free classic movies channel TCM, which reaches more than 70m households; and also truTV - 87m households - which offers a range of unscripted comedy and general entertainment strands including Impractical Jokers and Billy on the Street.
Perhaps the most widely known brand in the Turner portfolio is the 24-hour news network CNN, which developed a global profile in the late 1990s as a result of the Gulf War. It is now available in 91.4m homes in the US, and broadcast to another 350m across more than 200 countries around the globe. In addition to its 10 US news bureaus, it operates offices in another 30 cities around the world, and produces five separate editorial feeds from the EMEA region, Asia Pacific, South Asia and Latin America as well as North America. It was best-known for years for its nightly talk show, originally hosted by Larry King, and latterly by British media figure Piers Morgan (until his contract was terminated in early 2014). However, CNN suffered a significant decline from its heyday in the 1990s, with viewing figures falling below rivals such as Fox News and MSNBC in the late 2000s and early 2010s. For 2013 it regained some of its poise, reclaiming the #2 spot from MSNBC, before slipping back into 3rd place. Anderson Cooper is CNN's star anchor.
CNN's popularity among some parts of the US and international viewing audience has risen still further since 2016 because of its role as one of the media industry's most vocal critics of President Trump and his administration. This has prompted a series of personal attacks from Trump himself against the channel via his Twitter feed. Many observers believe that the Trump adminstration's attempts to block Time Warner's proposed purchase by AT&T since 2016 originate in his personal animosity towards CNN.
In the US, the channel has supplied the springboard for the launch of a rolling news headlines and opinion strand, which rebranded from CNN Headline News to HLN in 2009. (CNN's revenues were almost $1.2bn in 2011).
Another strand with a global audience is Cartoon Network, which reaches 90.6m households in the US and generated revenues of $719m in 2011. Millions more watch Cartoon Network in international markets. A second kids' cartoon channel, Boomerang, launched in 2004, specialising in classic cartoon shows from the group's library as well as new original content. Adult Swim is an animated block which launched in 2007 on Cartoon Network in the US, offering late night programming on the Cartoon Network channel for a more sophisticated teenage and adult audience.
Turner operates web portals for its network brands as well as standalone sites including gaming community GameTap and shopping service Bamzu. The division also operates numerous non-US cable channels in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, including 17 local-language versions of Cartoon Network and 9 regional variations of Turner Classic Movies. Local kids channels include Pogo in India and Boing in Italy. The group acquired seven additional pay-TV networks in Latin America at the end of 2006. In 2003 the group finally agreed a deal to sell most of its portfolio of sports teams, including the NBA-affiliated basketball team the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Thrashers ice hockey team, to a consortium of local investors for around $250m. Sports cable channel Turner South was sold to Fox in 2006. However, both TNT and TBS now offer some sports coverage alongside other programming. In 2009, the group secured rights to broadcast selected NBA and MLB basketball and baseball games on TNT and TBS respectively until 2016, as well as NASCAR racing and PGA golf.
The Turner division reported revenues of $13.1bn in 2019. Operating income was $5.1bn. The business generates a little over half of its revenues from subscription fees, around 40% from advertising, and the remainder from sales of content.
Sister division Home Box Office is arguably America's most admired premium television network, long-famed for its high-quality original drama. Series commissioned by and first aired on HBO include The Sopranos, Sex & The City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Rome, True Blood, Deadwood, Entourage and many others. More recent successes include Boardwalk Empire, Girls, True Detective, Ballers, Veep and most recently Westworld. However, none of these has matched the extraordinary global appeal of the channel's biggest hit to-date, Game Of Thrones, launched in 2011, to become a critical, commercial and even cultural phenomenon. The 7th season in 2017 attracted more viewers than any previous, including a record 16.5m viewers for the finale.
Because of its subscription format, the channel has tended to specialise in hard-hitting adult drama and comedy, with content and language which would be unthinkable on the mainstream networks. Nevertheless, some shows produced for HBO have ended up as major hits on the main US broadcast networks, notably Everybody Loves Raymond which ran for seven seasons on CBS. In 2017, for the 16th consecutive year, HBO received more Primetime Emmy awards than any other network, a total of 29 in all, including multiple awards for Big Little Lies, The Night Of, Veep and Westworld. The previous year, Game Of Thrones alone took 12 awards to become the most awarded scripted show of all time, with 38 Primetime Emmys. The channel also carries a variety of exclusive sports programming, especially boxing, as well as first run movies on both HBO and sister channel Cinemax. The latter has begun to develop high-quality scripted drama series of its own, including Steven Soderbergh's The Knick and offbeat crime series Banshee.
The business also operates pay-per-view services HBO On Demand and Cinemax On Demand, as well as a global digital broadband "over-the-top" service under the HBO Go brand. Unlike Turner, it generally doesn't sell advertising around its programmes, but is funded by subscriptions. The group operates several HBO-branded joint ventures in Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe; and has a multi-year arrangement giving satellite broadcaster Sky exclusive first-run rights for all its content in the UK, Germany, Italy and other markets. To defend its position against streaming services such as Netflix, HBO began disclosing subscriber numbers for the first time in 2013. For 2017 it claimed a US audience of 54m subscribers, with another 88m viewers internationally.
Combined revenues for HBO in 2019 were $6.75bn, with operating income of $2.34bn. Subscriptions accounted for 86% of revenues, and sales of content for the remainder. The service does not carry advertising.
In 2005, Time Warner came close to agreeing a deal to acquire a significant shareholding in ITV, the UK's dominant commercial broadcaster, in partnership with venture capital investors. The deal appeared to go off the boil mid-year as a result of concerns over ITV's pension deficits. However in 2009, the group did acquire an initial 31% interest in Central Media Enterprises, which operates channels in seven Central and Eastern European countries. It increased that holding to just under 50% in 2013. Most of the remaining shares are publicly held.
Time Warner Global Media Group is a centralised unit set up to coordinate inter-divisional synergies. Originally created to manage group relationships with mediaowners and marketing partners, it evolved in 2004 into a dedicated inhouse advertising agency, generating client relationships more proactively, and offering creative services for the first time.
At its peak in 2008, Time Warner reported revenues of $46.99bn. Since then, that figure has fallen sharply, reflecting the divestment of several operating divisions. For 2015, group revenues rose 3% to $28.12bn, with all three remaining divisions achieving record sales and profits. Attributable net income was $3.83bn, up only marginally on the year before.
Revenues rose 4% in 2016 to $29.32bn, and then by 7% in 2017 to $31.27bn. The latter was the group's highest level since 2008. Net income for 2017 jumped by over a third to $5.25bn. Almost 73% of revenues were generated in the US and Canada in 2015, and 16% in Europe. The group still carried substantial debt of around $25bn at the end of 2017.
Combined reveneus for WarnerMedia in 2019 were $33.5bn with EBITDA of $9.7bn.
Jeff Bewkes became president & CEO of Time Warner in January 2008, and succeeded Richard Parsons as chairman as well at the end of that year. He stepped down following the acquisition by AT&T, and was succeeded as CEO of WarnerMedia by AT&T executive John Stankey. In 2020, former Hulu chief Jason Kilar was named as the new CEO of WarnerMedia, following Stankey's elevation to COO of AT&T and heir apparent to group CEO Randall Stephenson.
See Account Assignments for WarnerMedia marketing decisionmakers.
[See Warner Bros profile for the history of Time and Warner separately] The creation of AOL Time Warner was first made public in January 2000, when AOL announced it would acquire media giant Time Warner for what was then $190bn in stock. The deal created a business with a market value, also in 2000 prices, of over $350bn. (By early 2003, the group's value had plummeted to around one-sixth of that sum). Much coverage was given to the apparent implications of such a mammoth deal, combining the world's biggest online service with its biggest media company and America's leading cable operator. The deal, said commentators, would have a far-reaching effect on the way in which consumers accessed news, music and filmed entertainment. Equally undoubted was the fact that it would probably take longer than both sides would like to get these new delivery systems into play. However the scale of those problems only became apparent very much later.
In the meantime, the announcement of the deal raised a storm of protest from other internet service providers and media groups, who claimed the merger would create a virtual monopoly. Despite the best efforts of several companies, not least Disney, to derail the merger, the business was cleared to proceed in December 2000. AOL's founder Steve Case became chairman of the merged AOL Time Warner. Time Warner boss Gerry Levin became CEO, with Richard Parsons and Robert Pittman respectively taking the roles of COO for the Time Warner and AOL businesses. AOL Time Warner officially began trading in January 2001.
Almost immediately, problems began to emerge. The group had set itself an ambitious target of increasing combined revenues in its first year from $36bn to $40bn. However this was hampered by an economic downturn in the internet and media sectors. In the end the group's revenues fell short at $38bn. Meanwhile, it appears that the relationship between Case and Levin began to fray as the duo argued over the level of spending on convergence between online and offline media. At the same time, AOL's reputation was severely dented by a series of horrendous financial developments. First, in accordance with a deal struck at the height of the internet boom, the group was obliged to pay more than three times market value to buy back the shares in AOL Europe controlled by former partner Bertelsmann. AOL Time Warner's shareholders were even more dismayed by the $600m loss reported by AOL Europe for the year. Meanwhile internet advertising revenues were plummeting and subscriber growth was slowing at an alarming speed. Writing off value related to the online business caused AOL Time Warner to report a staggering $54bn loss for just the first quarter of 2002, then the biggest ever corporate deficit.
With problems at AOL growing, the group's share price plummeted. By July 2002, the stock was down almost 80% from where it stood when the merger was announced. Amid increasing resentment from former Time Warner managers at the apparent damage done to their businesses, Gerry Levin stepped down as CEO in favour of Richard Parsons, who announced a complete management reshuffle later that year. This led to Time Warner executives taking all the group's senior positions except that of chairman Steve Case. Despite negative comment from analysts, Parsons continued to argue that the merger could be made to work, and denied the benefits of a demerger. Later that year, however, the group was forced to declare that it had discovered accounting regularities at AOL. After further investigation it was revealed that AOL had overstated both its revenues and profits by $200m and $100m respectively in the period since late 2000. More problems emerged when the group was sued by one of America's largest pension funds. The lawsuit alleged that AOL employees had contributed to a $193m accounting fraud by online real estate company Homestore.com by participating in bogus advertising scams designed to inflate the dot.com's revenues. In a bid finally to draw a line under the financial bad news, Richard Parsons, pushed through a further mammoth charge for goodwill write-offs, and announced a through-the-line review of the America Online unit. In the meantime the SEC mounted a full investigation into the group's accounting policies.
A series of huge write-offs of goodwill relating to acquisitions during the course of 2002 were capped by a final charge of $45bn. As a result AOL Time Warner reported a full-year loss of $99bn, an almost inconceivable sum in eroded value. Yet this staggering loss, largely an accounting adjustment, masked what had otherwise been a generally satisfactory year for the group's main media divisions.
With virtually all of the group's senior management positions now occupied by former Time Warner staffers, Steve Case was the last remaining AOL team member in a position of power. He avoided an initial call to oust him at a shareholders' meeting in September 2002, but finally succumbed to pressure in May 2003, although he remained a director of the group until November 2005. Ted Turner, formerly the group's vice chairman and its single largest shareholder, as well as an outspoken critic of the AOL business unit, also resigned in early 2003.
Following Steve Case's departure, AOL Time Warner called a truce in the long-running legal skirmish between AOL and Microsoft. This related to the so-called browser wars of the 1990s, in which the Netscape browser later acquired by AOL was steadily crushed by Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Just a year earlier, the group had reheated its complaint by seeking damages from Microsoft. In June 2003, the software company conceded a payment of $750m and the two sides agreed to abandon their differences and instead work together to broaden access to digital content online. In September 2003, seeking to deflect some of the negative media attention focused on the group as a result of AOL, the board approved a suggestion to drop the AOL tag from the group name, once again becoming Time Warner.
Soon afterwards the group agreed a deal to sell its Warner Music division to a consortium of investors headed by former Seagram boss Edgar Bronfman Jr. It finally closed the various SEC investigations into accounting procedures at AOL in December 2004 by agreeing to make a total settlement payment of $510m. In August 2005, it also settled shareholder lawsuits over the AOL-Time Warner merger, and the subsequent erosion of the group's share price, with a massive $2.4bn payout. This wasn't enough for corporate raider Carl Icahn, who has built a long and profitable career out of carving up unwieldy conglomerates. He subsequently launched a campaign to push the group towards a full break-up. Icahn launched an bitter attack via the media on Richard Parsons' management record and argued that Time Warner should be split into four separate businesses of Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Entertainment, Time and AOL. Former AOL boss, Steve Case, arguably the main architect of the merger which has inspired Time Warner's troubles, also emerged from the shadows to add his voice to the mix. He claimed to have proposed a break-up of the group in summer 2005, but the plan was turned down by the board. After several months of bitter opposition to Time Warner's management, Icahn abruptly dropped his suit in February 2006 when he found he was unable to raise enough support to depose the current board.
Last full revision 1st May 2018
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