Jeffrey L. Bewkes
• Revenues in 2001 should grow by 10%, to $2.5 billion, and operating profits by 30%, to $700 million
• HBO received 94 prime-time Emmy nominations in 2001 and won 16 awards
PHOTO BY EVAN KAFKA
The real Mr. Big at HBO is not the character on the hit comedy Sex and the City but Chief Executive Jeffrey L. Bewkes. In his six years at the helm, Bewkes has built the cable network into one of the hottest properties on TV, and things only got better in 2001. Shows such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City continued to draw praise as did newcomers Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and original movies 61* and Wit. But for the 49-year-old executive who started his career as an operations manager for a California vineyard, the highlight of the year was sitting on a windswept Utah Beach in northern France on June 6. Bewkes huddled with 47 surviving members of Easy Company, a group of elite riflemen who were last together in 1944 when they parachuted behind enemy lines on D Day. HBO built a theater on the beach to debut its 10-part mini-series Band of Brothers that chronicles the unit. "It was such an emotional day," says Bewkes.
The fact that the $125 million project was produced for the small screen by Hollywood heavyweights Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg says something about Bewkes' ability to draw talent to his pay TV network. "He's reinvented HBO, from being about just running feature films to creating some of the coolest programs on TV in a generation," says MTV Networks CEO Tom Freston.
And while Bewkes's predecessor Michael Fuchs, who was fired in 1995, ran HBO as more of a top-down operation, Bewkes is a "bottom-up manager who's liberated the creative forces," says Freston, whose MTV is a co-owner with HBO of the cable channel Comedy Central. Indeed, more than 40% of HBO's programming today is original compared with 25% five years ago. "We have to consistently create the quality that makes our customers want to pay for the service," says Bewkes. The main reason customers say they sign up for HBO is for the original shows, then for the movies, and then for boxing matches.
The square-jawed executive is frequently mentioned as the one unit chief at AOL Time Warner (AOL ) who is likely to ascend into the executive ranks of the parent company. "That wouldn't surprise me at all," says News Corp. (NWS ) President Peter Chernin. "Jeff's created an incredible profit machine while raising the ante on the network's creative profile. That says something." While HBO accounts for less than 7% of AOL Time Warner Inc.'s revenues, the network is among the media giant's top brands--and brightest success stories. HBO now includes six HBO and four Cinemax channels. Subscriptions have increased nearly 30%, to 38 million, since Bewkes took over in 1995. Operating profits have tripled. And that's how Bewkes got to be Mr. Big.