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5 Takeaways From the Turner Upfront

Leave it to the home of Samantha Bee and Conan O’Brien to try to get people laughing while discussing a serious matter.

As TV networks made their sundry “upfront” pitches to Madison Avenue this week, Time Warner’s Turner made the most direct case for advertisers to stop thinking about TV content as only the stuff that appears on a TV screen.

“It’s no longer enough to just have viewers – you need fans,” said David Levy, president of Turner, in a statement released Wednesday. “We are in a new era of media and it’s time to retire the Nielsen television metric. While it undoubtedly served its purpose, it no longer fully captures how to successfully measure an audience in today’s landscape.” During a presentation to advertisers Wednesday, Turner executives made the point again and again that a fan can be just as good as a viewer – if only marketers would agree.

With that as a backdrop, here are some of the big lessons in abundant evidence at Turner’s “upfront” event:

*TV executives are eager to move beyond traditional audience measures…: “We are trapped by ‘C3,'” said Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT, nodding to the industry’s typical measure of audience, people who watch the ads up to three days after they air. Turner executives would prefer that advertisers look at the bigger crowd that clusters around a drama like TNT’s “The Alienist” via video-on-demand, social media and even experiential fan events, and team up with the company to reach as many as possible.

*Conan O’Brien has fast become a business unit...O’Brien has already announced he will retool his TBS late-night show next year, but in the meantime, he has plenty of other projects to keep him occupied. His team produces two comedies at TBS, “People of Earth” and “Final Space.” He’s at work on a comedy tour. And he will soon use the new program to spotlight his various projects. Reilly suggested the comedian might also get into podcasting and “a restaurant chain – more on that later.”

*Samantha Bee was fishing….for a potential sponsor for her latest “Full Frontal” offshoot, a mobile game. “This is Not A Game: The Game” is billed as “a heart-pounding, prize-stuffed turducken of a trivia game in which average citizens play to the death OR win kick-ass prizes,” and is meant to energize the populace around the 2018 midterm elections.  Bee told the audience the effort was aimed at reaching young consumers and was therefore a natural for them. And besides, she’ll try to do many things for sponsors, she vowed. “Axe Body Spray … I will wear your stinky product and people will be able to smell my pheromones through the TV!” she said. And, this: “Jell-O, you guys are looking for a new sponsor, right?” Bee tried something similar a few years ago, when she asked the Turner upfront crowd to help her in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

*You may not think “omnichannel” is a word, but apparently it is….Media executives love to turn words that have no reason to exist into entries in Webster’s, which is why people in the industry like to sling around bon mots like “ideate’ and “optionality.” Turner’s contribution to the lexicon is “omnichannel,” which apparently means content that can be enjoyed, consumed, interacted with across any number of media venues. If only big buying agencies like GroupM and OMD had “omnichannel” budgets all lined up and ready to go.

*The folks at Cartoon Network know how to talk to Madison Avenue….In a video presentation that was equal turns sweet and surreal, a bevy of Powerfpuff Girls mixed with a range of Adult Swim creations in an animated short that illustrated how Cartoon Network characters hover around young consumers as kids and then hang with them through early adulthood.

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