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Time Warner net doubles on film, TV

Time Warner also reported improved results and a slowdown in subscriber defections at its America Online division, which is in the midst of a turnaround effort.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Time Warner Inc., the world’s largest media company, reported Wednesday that its first-quarter profits more than doubled from the same period a year ago, powered by stronger results in its film and television divisions.

Time Warner also reported improved results and a slowdown in subscriber defections at its America Online division, which is in the midst of a turnaround effort.

For the period ending March 31, the company posted net earnings of $961 million, or 20 cents per share, well ahead of the year-ago figures of $396 million, or 9 cents per share.

Revenues rose 9 percent to $10.1 billion from $9.24 billion a year ago.

Excluding the effects of an accounting charge and discontinued operations, the earnings were equivalent to 15 cents per share, well ahead of the 9 cents per share that analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had been expecting. In the comparable period a year ago, the company earned 10 cents per share.

The results were announced after the end of regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange, where Time Warner’s shares closed down 31 cents at $16.51. In after-hours trading, the shares jumped 58 cents.

“Simply put, we had a great quarter, and we couldn’t be more pleased,” chief executive Dick Parsons told investors on a conference call. But he also called the improved results “only a stepping stone” on the way to building long-term value.

Time Warner also reported that it had cut its net debt to $18.8 billion, down from $22.7 billion at the end of 2003 — meaning the company met its debt reduction targets a year ahead of schedule.

Parsons has been shedding assets, paring down debt and focusing on the company’s core businesses in a long-term effort to regain investors’ trust following the debacle of Time Warner’s 2001 merger with AOL.

The company has since stripped ’AOL’ from its name, removed AOL executives from top management positions and downgraded the Internet business to an operating unit from an equal management partner in the company.

However, AOL is still trying to stem losses of dial-up Internet users and fashion services to attract high-speed Internet users, many of whom are dropping AOL for high-speed Internet service providers such as cable modems and DSL.

AOL’s revenues edged slightly lower to $2.19 billion from $2.20 billion in the same quarter a year ago, but operating income rose 21 percent on lower costs and better results from its European operation.

AOL also reported that it lost a total of 361,000 paying subscribers in the quarter, well below the 830,000 paying subscribers it lost in the fourth quarter of last year.

Don Logan, the head of Time Warner’s subscription-based businesses including cable TV, magazines and AOL, voiced optimism about the improvement in AOL’s results but acknowledged that “we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us. ... The organization is clearly much stronger today than it was a year ago.”

The company’s Hollywood studios posted a 25 percent increase in revenues, led by higher licensing fees from television syndication including “Seinfeld.” The company’s Warner Bros. and New Line studios had a combined 20 percent share of the U.S. box office in the first quarter, and New Line’s third installment in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy became only the second movie ever to break the $1 billion mark at the box office.

Time Warner’s television networks unit posted a 5 percent rise in revenues, as subscription revenues rose 10 percent due to higher subscription rates at HBO and other networks.

The company said the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the Justice Department were continuing to investigate the company’s accounting, primarily AOL’s reporting of advertising revenues and subscriber counts. The company provided no update on the status of those investigations.