By Valerie Milano
TCA2016 (The Hollywood Times) 01/07/2016 Turner Networks – Executive Session Executive Session w/ President of TBS and TNT and the Chief Creative Officer for Turner Entertainment, Mr. Kevin Reilly.
Kevin Reilly was all jacked up and ready to rip. Armed with a four-point plan, a 10-minute preview smorgasbord and an egg timer, Reilly was bullish on reinvention and dismissed the concept of rebranding. Apparently the TBS and TNT brands are doing just fine thank you. However, a dip in ratings at both TBS and TNT have the brass scrambling to stay ahead of the curve despite universal acknowledgement that Nielsen is fast approaching it’s expiry date.
It’s not like Turner had a bad year, TBS continued as a top 10 cable destination in prime time. With a war chest loaded with marquee syndicated sitcoms and the broadcast rights to the NCAA final four and the Championship final, Turner has a rock solid foundation to build on.
With a strict 10-minute “blabber” limit, Reilly set about redesigning the wheel:
Kevin Reilly,” What we have today is a total reinvention of two of cable’s most successful brands, TNT and TBS. It’s just not a rebranding of these two networks. What it is is, I believe, the beginning of what will hopefully be a new way of looking at the business of cable television and what it means to be a network.”
Reilly gave props to the network’s beloved patriarch and namesake, Ted Turner. Then Reilly talked large and laid out the Turner master plan for changing the face of cable:
Turner has caught the original programming bug, announcing an increased programming budget topping a billion spread out over the next three years.
With other networks drawing down their comedy programming, Reilly obviously sees an opening for TBS to make a move:
Kevin Reilly, “To be a success today, you’ve got to be part of the cultural conversation and make some noise. So we plan on building on those comedy assets and the comedy audience that we have, at a time, frankly, which I think you’re well aware of, that most other networks have abandoned comedy or are diminishing their participation in the comedy business. I think that’s an opportunity for us. Turner, over that same time period, has actually grown a comedy brand in Adult Swim. It’s been an incredible success story with young adults, the exact audience who’s supposedly, quote/unquote, not watching television anymore.”
Kevin Reilly, “So let me briefly share with you first the four tentpoles of what I think will make up that. Those tent poles are, one, premium content or premium original content, of course; two, improving the consumer experience; three, a new business paradigm; and four, investments in growth.eilly was not shy about throwing down the gauntlet as regards new programming:
Kevin Reilly, “I’m not up here today telling you about pilots and a development sheet like a lot of rebranding networks do and just talking about one show. I’m talking about six scripted comedies and one reality show on TBS. Including one new one that we just announced this morning, “People of the Earth,” which is a really clever, new scripted comedy about a support group for alien abductees. It comes from our friend Conan O’Brien and my old friend Greg Daniels. We go back to “The Office.” And it’s going to star Wyatt Cenac who, I think, is a really special talent, and you’ll see it in the trailer. And a great ensemble cast.”
With Reilly still in mid “blabber” about TBS, the egg timer goes off. Reilly puts more time on the clock and changes the subject to the quality of the consumer experience. In layman’s terms, we’re talking the annoying glut of commercial advertising on linear TV:
Kevin Reilly, “TV is the best advertising delivery mechanism ever invented. It’s unparalleled for building brands and moving consumers. But we have overstuffed the bird. That not only dilutes the quality of the viewers’ experience but also the effectiveness of ads.”
Reilly got a little more specific:
Kevin Reilly, “I want to announce today another step that we’re taking on TNT specifically. We’ve just begun negotiations so that the three new dramas we premiere in 2016 will all have potentially up to eight to ten minutes of additional program time per hour. This is an opportunity that we’re putting out to the industry to embrace change and move the needle. We’ve got a great response from the clients we’ve met with so far, and I’m very optimistic that we’re going to pull this off. And when we do, that means we’re going to reduce the ad load in those hours by over 50 percent, which will be by far and away an industry standard and the best on commercial television. It’s going to take us some time to get this right, then, across all the hours on the network, but next season starts the mark, starts the beginning of real change in creating a better viewing experience on the linear channel.”
Reilly continued with some rather oblique corporate-speak about growth, business restructuring, technology and the network ecosystem.
Reilly then threw a little red meat out to the techie community announcing the launch of Super Deluxe:
Kevin Reilly, “I initiated a brand new startup that I will announce today. It was leaked at one point, but we are now officially in soft launch on a new startup company called Super Deluxe which is operating in downtown Los Angeles. In a very short time, we’re at 45 employees and growing. It is an independent subsidiary that we’re operating. It’s both a digital content creator and a tech product incubator that’s focused on mobile first consumption. The Super Deluxe, in just a few short weeks, has had over 12 million views. What this is going to do is provide us an exciting not only content incubator in the digital space, but it’s going to keep us connected with young audiences online and that we know we can talk to and activate on a daily basis. This business and other investments we’ll be making will be growing that space very actively.”
Reilly announced some bold moves aimed expanding the core of the network and gathering the gaming community under the Turner umbrella:
“Through the Turner Group, we purchased the iStreamPlanet which is the biggest streaming platform for things from the Olympics to Twitch, and we’re working to develop an over the top platform offering. And right now at CES I’m actually sorry I’m missing this, because Lenny Daniels and Craig Barry, our sports guys, are announcing ELeague, our new e sports business. For those of you who are not gamers, the statistics on this, the engagement on this, the growth in this is absolutely mind blowing. This is one of the boldest and most exciting initiatives at TBS. It’s a huge next generation entertainment experience that we’re going to build in partnership with IMG and Valve, a major game publisher. We’re building to ten week seasons, a game every day online and a game of the week on television. This will be both an online and televised experience, all building to a bracketed championship round.”
Kevin Reilly seems to have a vision that looks far beyond the stagnant dog and pony show of Nielsen ratings and primetime programming. Streaming and multi-platforms are a technological Tsunami that’s beginning to break and will sweep away traditional TV and Broadcast media sooner than later. Reilly obviously preparing for the future even as he’s required to manage the here and now:
Kevin Reilly, “Three years from now, and I think it will take the better part of three years to fully realize this vision, TBS and TNT will be radically different businesses than they are today. And I think within the next 18 months or so, the programming profile will be radically different. Our intention is to be at the forefront while things change over the next three years. Things will radically change in our business over the next three years, and we’re going to be ahead of that change and I look forward to it.”