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Bewkes sidesteps Fox questions

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes neatly sidestepped questions about why he walked away from a merger with 21st Century yesterday, while Rupert Murdoch has offered his opinions on the episode.

Jeff Bewkes1In a conference call with investors, Bewkes declined to comment directly on the Fox proposal, “except to say that the board and our senior management team appreciate the continued support of our shareholders”.

This was in contrast to Fox chairman and CEO Murdoch, who said the decision to exit negotiations was “resolute” after Time Warner’s management and board refused to explore the “compelling offer”, and Fox’s share price dropped.

“It became increasingly clear that the combination of the drop in our share price and the highly defensive nature of Time Warner’s actions was going to lead to a transaction where too much of the value created in success went to Time Warner shareholders,” added Murdoch’s second-in-command, Fox president and COO Chase Carey.

He also defined the US$80 billion proposal as “one of opportunity, not necessity or defensive concerns”, and said Fox had “no plans” to acquire any other content companies as an alternative.

Though Bewkes declined to comment directly, he did outline some pitfalls of high-level media consolidation.

“There are benefits and there are risks to making any kind of combination like that. There’s also the factor of business interruption, regulatory scrutiny and timings that comes into play,” he said.

“I would just encourage everybody to look at all sides of the issue when you’re contemplating the benefits and the risks of putting very large companies together.”

The combined Fox-Time Warner group would have included a channels stable including Fox, FX, TNT, HBO, Cartoon Network and truTV among others, along with the Fox and Warner Bros. Hollywood studios, and numerous broadcast, broadcast and distribution assets around the world.

Bewkes comments came after the group posted improved year-on-year fourth quarter revenues of US$6.8 billion, with premium cable channel HBO singled out as a growth driver following a major recent content deal with on-demand platform Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Fox, meanwhile, also posted growth in its Q4 results, up 17% on the same quarter in 2013. Its revenues were US$8.4 billion, though broadcast TV revenues fell 6%.