Time Warner amplifies fears that viewers are deserting pay TV


LOS ANGELES – Time Warner on Wednesday re-ignited concerns that U.S. consumers are shifting to Internet television faster than expected and creating challenges to major media companies that have thrived with programming on pay TV.

Traditional media companies’ shares fell after Time Warner said during its quarterly conference call that it needed to take new steps to address the shakeup in TV viewing.

The company’s quarterly results added evidence that “cord-cutting,” or dropping pay TV services, threatens traditional media companies and built on Walt Disney Co.’s admission in August that its ESPN sports powerhouse had lost customers.

“What we’ve got is something of a deja vu,” said FBR Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett. “Investor confidence is rattled.”

Time Warner, which owns cable channels TBS, TNT and HBO, said it was evaluating whether to keep rights for its shows longer for on-demand viewing instead of licensing them to services like Netflix or Amazon.com. It is also looking for ways to reduce the number of ads in its programming.

Evercore ISI analyst Vijay Jayant termed Time Warner’s idea to keep programming rights longer a defensive move.

“Long-term, leaders of companies should look at this,” Jayant said. “It will be better than the current trajectory they are on.”

Netflix shares climbed 3.6 percent, and Amazon rose 2.9 percent on Wednesday. Investors probably took Time Warner’s comments as a positive sign about the future of video streaming that Netflix pioneered and feel confident about its original programming and overseas potential, said Rosenblatt Securities analyst Martin Pyykkonen.

Shares of Time Warner were down 6.6 percent in afternoon trading. Disney, which reports its quarterly results on Thursday, fell 2.2 percent, and 21st Century Fox, which posted lower-than-expected revenue on Wednesday, dropped 6.4 percent.

Time Warner lowered its earnings outlook, in part because of bigger-than-expected declines in pay TV subscribers and plans to increase investments in digital technology to keep pace with the changing market.

Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bewkes acknowledged that changes in media habits posed challenges but said there were also opportunities.

“It’s critical that we push on the accelerator because every day it becomes clearer that the trends we anticipated are happening,” he said, “and in some ways they are happening even faster than we expected.”