Cable co. hammering out N.Y. ad presentation

Turner Networks turned heads at last year’s upfront, presenting its fare to advertisers smack in the middle of the broadcast sessions while favorably comparing the quality of its award-winning drama to an NBC sked that included, in the words of Turner entertainment topper Steve Koonin, “a man named Wolf in a unitard and a talking car.”

So, after successfully pulling a few ad dollars away from the Big Four, and zinging the Peacock’s “American Gladiators” and “Knight Rider” in the process, what does the Atlanta-based cable conglom have planned for an encore?

Well, probably more of the same.

Turner will once again hold its big dog-and-pony show for advertisers the same day CBS does, presenting May 20 at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

Koonin, a former marketing exec at Coca-Cola, is still working with Turner original programming topper Michael Wright and ad sales head David Levy to hammer out the specifics of the presentation.

But the Time-Warner company once again plans to bill its TNT and TBS channels as “broadcast value replacements,” urging advertisers to move their dollars out of a broadcast medium that has experienced double-digit ratings losses across the board this season and onto the burgeoning cable platform.

Currently, big ad-supported cable networks like TNT and USA can only command a price per CPM — that is, the cost for having 1,000 people watch a given commercial — that’s about a third of what the broadcast webs routinely ask for.

Reaping the benefits of resurgent NBA coverage and top-rated original series “The Closer,” which has been averaging about 5.8 million viewers while going against broadcast competish on Monday nights over the past month, TNT ranks among ad-supported cable’s top destinations for adult auds, but it’s not the biggest. That distinction belongs to USA Network, which routinely beats the CW and sometimes even nips NBC in key demos.

So why is it that Turner is the one big, broad-skewing, ad-supported cabler choosing to so publicly go after the broadcast networks’ lunch?

One reason is its relative independence. Unlike USA, FX and Lifetime, Turner doesn’t have a broadcaster in its corporate family, thus there’s no internal need to differentiate its brand.

Another reason is the breadth and depth of its original series, which are expanding as broadcast skeds are contracting.

“We will have more drama than several of the broadcast networks have on their schedules, and we have a talent lineup that isn’t second to anyone’s,” Koonin said. “This summer, we’ll have seven original dramas on the air, and next summer, we could have as many as 11.”

Indeed, on the TNT side, the company has aggressively moved forward with one of television’s most ambitious drama slates, creating a network that seems, well … almost broadcast-like, with possibly as many as three nights of original programming a week on the sked by the end of the year.

Building on established crime dramas “The Closer” and “Saving Grace,” TNT last year successfully launched “Raising the Bar,” a legal sudser produced by Steven Bochco and starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and “Leverage,” a caper-themed skein produced by Dean Devlin and starring Timothy Hutton.

Premiering in January, the cabler’s “Trust Me,” an ad-agency-centered concept that stars Tom Cavanagh and Eric McCormack, has thus far fizzled. But several high-profile premieres remain on tap for this year, including “Time Heals,” a medical drama produced by and starring Jada Pinkett-Smith; crime drama “The Line,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Dylan McDermott; and Mark Burnett-produced reality skein “Wedding Day.”

“TNT gives very few notes, and when they do, you generally agree with them,” said Devlin, speaking of Turner’s growing creative clout.

Add to that NBA ratings on TNT that are up double digits in all key demos this season, and a comedy lineup on TBS that includes the Tyler Perry-produced successes “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns.”

But in what is shaping up to be an extremely soft upfront market, will it all add up to parity with broadcast for advertisers looking for broad-reaching purchases?

That’s not likely to happen this season.

“I think Turner and cable are well-positioned this year, and some of (Turner’s) top shows, like ‘The Closer,’ are doing extremely well, but overall their lineup still doesn’t turn near the ratings of the top broadcast shows,” one ad buyer said.

For his part, Koonin seems content to continue chipping away at the price differential between the two.

“We have no problem being the tortoise in this great race,” he said.

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