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Turner’s Kevin Reilly Talks Reduced Ad Load, Samantha Bee’s Success

Turner Entertainment chief creative officer Kevin Reilly said his makeover of the brands under his watch is well underway, reporting that his experiment with reduced ad loads for the dramas on TNT has met with success in the advertising industry as well as with viewers.

“Six months ago, I said we’re going to give a fresh coat of paint for the brands and begin a process where we ultimately redefine what a television network is,” he said at the annual Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills. “We are going to remain as vital as ever, and amidst all the change, evolve how we connect with our audience.”

Reilly praised his experiment with reduced ad loads, which the network rolled out with new dramas “Good Behavior” and “Animal Kingdom,” adding ten additional minutes of show content and 50% fewer ads. “We’re finding very good results with that,” he said. “Not only is commercial viewing higher, we’re seeing a nice ratings lift.”

Reilly said the reduced ad load factored in this year’s upfront as well, and the network has extended the deal to all of TNT’s new dramas. He hopes to expand the model to sister network TBS as well.

“That’s a huge statement and has led the industry,” he said. “It’s being emulated by some other competitors on a one-off basis. If we get the results that we’re beginning to see, we’ll look at doing it on TBS. (But) if we’re the only two networks doing it, it’s not going to change the industry and we’ll have to go back, but the data points in the right direction.” He added that they’re experimenting with fewer ad breaks as well.

Reilly pointed to the success of the four new shows he’s introduced across TBS and TNT: “Angie Tribeca,” “Wrecked,” “Animal Kingdom,” and particularly “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

“Sam Bee has been rocking it,” he said. Asked why the show is limited to just 30 minutes once a week, he said it was Bee’s decision. “We try to take our lead from the talent itself. I’d give her as many hours as she’d like,” he said. “It’s always a good problem to have to hear people saying they want to see more.”

Reilly acknowledged the shift toward serialized storytelling has abandoned viewers who may prefer a more traditional closed-ended model, and said the network is developing some dramas along those lines. “We will be introducing more of those at the end of ’17 going into ’18,” he said. “What’s been unlocked on television is a more complex level of storytelling, a rich tapestry of complex stories that go on and on, (but) that doesn’t mean there’s not a big audience that likes closed-ended.” He pointed to the upcoming “Claws,” which is in the vein of “Desperate Housewives.” “We’re going to open up our range,” he said.

Reilly also talked about playing with different methods of distribution, given their past experimentation with a 25-hour marathon for “Angie Tribeca.” “We’ve found that creating more access points in different places reaches different audiences,” he said. Plans for the upcoming “Search Party” includes a “five-day” binge over Thanksgiving week to reach younger viewers.

He addressed the issue of competing in the Peak TV marketplace, but said they’re seeing top talent come through their office. “We’re right in the middle of it with everyone else,” he said. “We’re competing with HBO, Netflix and FX. And with comedy, it’s open-field running. I don’t think anybody’s quite doing what we’re doing.”

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