Summary:

Time Warner will put its magazine titles, including People and Sports Illustrated, into a separate company later this year. The move is a surprise as the publishing world had expected the company to sell most its publications to Iowa-based Meredith.

Time Warner surprised the publishing world on Wednesday afternoon by announcing that it would spin off its 21 magazines, including namesake Time and Sports Illustrated, into a separate company.

The move comes on the heels of earlier news that a rumored sale of Time Warner magazines to Iowa-based Meredith has fallen through. Under the terms of that proposed deal, Meredith would have acquired lifestyle and women’s interest brands like People.

Instead, Time Warner’s magazines will be slotted into a stand-alone corporation last year. In the company’s news release, CEO Jeff Bewkes said the move would be similar to earlier spin-offs involving Time Warner Cable and AOL.

“After a thorough review of options, we believe that a separation will better position both Time Warner and Time Inc. A complete spin-off of Time Inc. provides strategic clarity for Time Warner Inc., enabling us to focus entirely on our television networks and film and TV production businesses, and improves our growth profile,” said Bewkes, adding that current Time Inc. CEO Laura Lang will stay on in the short term for the transition but will soon step down.

The spin-off is likely to mean layoffs or closures at the newly independent magazine entity. In recent years, Time Warner has reaped large profits on its TV content but the magazines, despite their iconic status, have struggled in the face of an ongoing secular decline.

The split also mirrors what took place at media giant News Corp., which last year announced plans to move its publishing assets into a separate company.

According to New York Times sources, the Meredith deal failed to come through after Time Warner could not agree on money nor on what to do with four core titles — Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money — that Meredith did not want to take on.

Time Warner has not indicated how much equity it will retain in the newly spun-off corporation nor whether it will keep the “Time” in its name in the future. Not long ago, the company was known as AOL Time Warner; now, the Warner part is all that is left.

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