Is Time Warner going to sell its magazine division? A lot of people think so, but Jeffrey Bewkes says otherwise.

At The Atlantic Monthly's "First Draft of History" conference in Washington, D.C., the Time Warner (TWX) chairman and CEO just poured cold water on speculation that the media conglomerate (which owns DailyFinance parent AOL, though not for much longer) is on the verge of unloading Time Inc., home of Time, Sports Illustrated, People and scores of other titles.
"Time Inc. is not for sale," Bewkes told his interviewer, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. "People made these rumors because they want a lot of activity."

Of course, saying "Time Inc. is not for sale" is not the same thing as saying "Time Inc. will not be for sale very soon." Goldberg followed up by asking if Time Warner will still be in the magazine business in five years.

"Yeah, and I think the magazine business has plenty of expansion in it," Bewkes replied. "It is true that the magazine business, right now, during this recession, is having a bit of an advertising recession, but the thing to remember about magazines in general and certainly our magazines is the readership is solid, the readership is holding up, the readers are happy, the titles are thriving."

Goldberg also touched on this week's reports that General Electric Co. (GE) is in talks to sell a piece, possibly a controlling piece, of NBC Universal. Might Time Warner be the buyer? "No, what we're buying is airlines, mining, and deep-sea exploration," Bewkes quipped.

Right now, the front-runner to buy NBC Universal appears to be Comcast (CMCSA), which believes it can shore up its cable distribution business by owning the content that flows through the pipes rather than just the pipes. Time Warner recently made the opposite strategic judgment, spinning off Time Warner Cable.

Bewkes suggested that Comcast wants NBCU, not because of any synergies that might exist, but merely because owning content companies is an attractive proposition in and of itself. "They may have concerns about their future in cable," he said. "They want to hedge it into what they think -- and this part I would agree with -- is a better long-term business. It's a good business. It's one everyone should want to get in."

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