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Bewkes Upped at Time Warner

Time Warner is promoting Jeff Bewkes to president and COO, positioning him as the clear No. 2 to Chairman/CEO Dick Parsons.

Bewkes, a veteran TV-industry executive who previously ran Time Warner’s HBO unit, was most recently chairman of the company’s Entertainment and Networks Group, including HBO, Turner Broadcasting, The WB and New Line Cinema. He took up that post in July 2002. At the same time, Time Warner tapped publishing executive Don Logan to be Chairman of its Media and Communications Group, which includes AOL and Time Inc.

Logan, who has been hampered by severe back problems, has been expected to retire, which would clear the way for Bewkes to increase his purview. Time Warner said Wednesday that Logan will retire at the end of the year and become non-executive Chairman of Time Warner Cable’s board of directors.

“Jeff's unmatched combination of intelligence, energy and understanding of our companies and industries will make him a superb leader for all of our businesses,” Parsons said in a statement. “Not only is Jeff a seasoned executive, but he brings long experience in dealing with the creative and technological aspects of our companies.”

Bewkes’ appointment comes at a critical time for the company. AOL needs to expand beyond its core business. On Tuesday, AOL inked a deal with Google that gives the search-engine company a 5% stake in AOL in exchange for $1 billion. Time Warner’s cable networks, one of the company’s strongest assets, are performing well but need to find ways to increase subscriber and ratings growth.

But perhaps Parsons’ biggest headache is investor Carl Ichan, who wants to load up some properties heavily with debt, spin them off and use the cash to buy back stock. Parsons does not support these tactics as extremely as Ichan demands.

Although Parsons is not expected to retire any time soon, the appointment of Bewkes ensures the well-regarded executive, whose name popped up last year as a possible successor for ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, will stay in the Time Warner stable. The company took it down to the wire though: If Time Warner did not give him the President/COO post, Bewkes would have been free to job hunt with few restrictions.