Originally created 05/15/98

Time Warner touts financial turnaround



ATLANTA -- Buoyed by almost a 120 percent increase in its stock price in 1997, Time Warner officials presided Thursday over an upbeat gathering of stockholders and put to rest any notion that they might yank operations out of Atlanta.

"Atlanta is in fact a national and global communications hub, and I'm proud that Time Warner has (numerous operations) here," Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin told a standing-room-only crowd of stockholders and employees gathered in a hotel ballroom adjacent to CNN Center.

The Atlanta branch of Time Warner -- including CNN and other former Turner Broadcasting System Inc. divisions -- helped lead Time Warner in a dramatic financial turnaround in 1997.

Ted Turner, the founder of Turner Broadcasting who became Time Warner's vice chairman when the companies merged, attended the shareholders meeting but did not address the crowd.

Time Warner's stock has risen almost 120 percent from its low of $36.37 1/2 in 1997. It closed Thursday at $79.75, down 25 cents.

The turnaround is being driven by Wall Street's renewed confidence in the cable TV industry and by Time Warner's ability to generate cash.

For 1997, the company earned $246 million on $13.29 billion in revenues. The world's largest media and entertainment company also had $1.27 billion last year in operating income.

"There should be no doubt about the unity of purpose that is driving our company," Levin said.

One area of the company that failed to turn in a stellar performance in 1997 was the Warner Bros. music branch. Music revenues dropped $186 million -- or about 28 percent -- from 1996 to 1997, and Levin said revenues also are down for the first quarter of this year.

He attributed the downslide to an unusually large amount of "slippage," in which the release date for an album is delayed from one year into the next.

"We definitely expect 1998 to be a turnaround year," Levin said.

In contrast to last year's annual meeting -- during which Levin faced another round of criticism over Time Warner's former connection with a record company that represents rap artists and their graphic lyrics -- this year's meeting had a decidedly family-friendly theme.

Levin showed a two-minute promotion for the Goodwill Games that featured impoverished children playing in ghettos, and showed a clip from a Warner Bros. animated feature, "Quest for Camelot," that will be released Friday.

"It contains very solid values. It is a family film," he said.

Shareholders approved the two measures management requested, including the re-election of Levin and Turner to the board of directors as well as a new director, former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo.