Time Warner, the media conglomerate that bears the title of once-great magazine in its name, is getting out of the publishing business.
The plan to spin off its Time Inc. magazine division is part of the great unraveling of a conglomerate that came into being in 1990 with the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications. It will complete Time Warner’s evolution into a pure cable television and movie production company from what was once a colossus that included dominant cable and Internet companies, a book publisher and music unit.
It also redresses the lingering fallout of Time Warner’s recent corporate marriages, most notably AOL’s $103.5 billion acquisition of Time Warner in 2000 that created the monstrous AOL Time Warner. That debacle became a case study in M.B.A. programs on how not to run a company.
With the departure of Time Inc. from its stable it would be an ideal time for Time Warner to resolve the confusion that has surrounded its name for years, the chief culprit in this being Time Warner Cable.
It is no minor issue. Time Warner Cable was a division of Time Warner Inc. up until 2009 when it was spun off… as Time Warner Cable. Since the separation it’s been commonplace to see their names confused.
Time Warner Inc. regularly gets complaints from Time Warner Cable customers about its apparently terrible service. Time Warner Cable, for its part, gets complaints from people about programming of Time Warner-owned cable channels such as CNN and HBO.
Executives at Time Warner Cable did make a run at a name change in 2010. The search was voluntary; the company was under no contractual obligation to find a new name. Dubbed ‘Project Mercury’ the name search involved the combined might of WPP’s Ogilvy and its various branding agencies, all to no avail. In the end, the folks at Time Warner Cable couldn’t wean themselves off the seductive familiarity of the Time Warner name, or even the word ‘cable’, so they made do with a logo change and a new ad campaign to create ‘distance’.
They also might have been glancing over their shoulders at the naming travails of its sister company, Time Warner Telecom, which had to change its name under a license agreement that expired in 2006. It made a complete hash of the job and after two license extensions the company finally surrendered with the name ‘TW Telecom’ in 2008.
Now, along comes Comcast to the rescue. It’s planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable will likely do Time Warner Inc. a favor by burying the Time Warner Cable name.
A possible option for Comcast is to rename the combined company Xfinity, the current name for its TV, phone and Internet service. Nobody likes their cable company, but Comcast and Time Warner Cable are particularly reviled, both consistently ranking at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys. While it’s not a lovely name, Xfinity is free of the cable company service stigma. Still, that will be Comcast’s call.
Meanwhile, Time Warner Inc. has some soul searching of its own to do. The spin off of Time Inc. will mean there will be two companies with similar names traded on the stock market: Time Warner Inc. and Time Inc.
With no ‘Time’ in Time Warner will the company simply lop off Time from its name, as it did so unceremoniously with AOL in 2003, and become plain Warner Inc., or Warner Media? Even that would be problematic as there is the Warner Music Group, a closely held music company whose sale by Time Warner began the great unraveling.
Time Warner is beginning to look a lot like Viacom. It needs to find a similar kind of brand name that makes strategic sense of the whole, rather than passively drawing its identity from acquired properties that come and go. While time might not be running out for Time Warner, Time is no longer on its side.
See also: Time Warner’s naming twavails