The evolution of the former Turner networks continues, as WarnerMedia is making less of a distinction now between entertainment channels TNT, TBS and TruTV. Moving forward, the conglomerate’s execs say they’ll be less rigid in defining what type of show airs on which network — with a few differences.
Most notably, TBS, which had been focused mostly on comedy fare (its former tagline was “Very Funny”), is adding drama to the mix. The action thriller “Snowpiercer,” which has already been renewed for a second season, will premiere on TBS instead of TNT, as originally planned.
“It’s less about genre and more about taste,” TBS/TNT general manager Brett Weitz told Variety. Weitz said the networks are now thinking strategically, program by program, and less about fitting shows on a certain network just based on brand.
“When you start to define things by genre, it becomes narrow-minded and it becomes the networks of old,” Weitz said. “And we’re trying to be innovative and push into what the next iteration of consumption is going to look like.”
Specifically about “Snowpiercer,” he added, “I think when we look at what the assets of TBS are in 2020 and thinking about post-NCAA [March Madness], and knowing how great of an adventure ‘Snowpiercer’ will be, it makes more sense to have that show there,” he said. “You’ll see as we start to evolve the development in the next six months how these shows start to pan out and what the networks look like.”
Weitz said creatives pitching his team shouldn’t have a network in mind; rather, the WarnerMedia folks will eventually figure out where to premiere the show. But as shows migrate to different platforms, including a streaming window, that will matter less.
“Snowpiercer” on TBS may seem a bit jarring; a gritty, violent drama on a channel known mostly for laughs. But as audiences juggle streaming and linear network consumption, the origination matters less, the execs said.
“You’ll begin to see a more integrated approach to our whole ecosystem,” said Kevin Reilly, TBS/TNT president and Turner chief creative officer. “It’s owning the virtuous circle of engagement. Part of this transformation is how we think about networks. We’re going to be more flexible in our programming strategy to go where the audience is… TBS, TNT and TruTV are stronger if we’re less bound by a single brand position or genre.”
Reilly is now also in charge of WarnerMedia’s still-unnamed streaming service, and the decision to eliminate those brand borders is part of the company’s plan to keep viewers “engaged.”
“We’re in the midst of a transformation at WarnerMedia,” Reilly said. “In the increasingly on-demand universe, there’s no way to wall in viewers today, no matter how strong your service is.”
But it’s also a reminder that the company is continuing to move away from its Turner brand (which has already been eliminated as a separate corporate entity) and toward a more cohesive “WarnerMedia” future. Sales chief Donna Speciale calls it an “engagement loop,” in pitching media buyers “to advertise on all our platforms” and not just think linear.
To be sure, there remain slight distinctions to the different channels. TNT is focused on “blockbuster TV,” Reilly said, including sporting events like the NBA, edgy drama series like “Claws” and “Animal Kingdom,” reality series like the new “Shaq Life” and a movie package. The company is also adding the new live wrestling franchise AEW to the mix. A new season of “The Alienist” will also return to TNT in 2020, as pre-production begins next week in Budapest.
TBS still leans heavily on comedy, such as “The Last O.G.,” as well as Conan O’Brien’s “Conan,” Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” and off-net sitcoms like “The Big Bang Theory.” And TruTV is known for more offbeat fare like “I’m Sorry” and “Tacoma F.D.”
But most of those shows will also migrate in various ways to WarnerMedia’s streaming service, and clearly the company is preparing for the day when shows are less tied to one linear network brand. And WarnerMedia isn’t the only one blending brands, as AMC Networks, Viacom and other congloms have also put several networks under single creative and corporate oversight. FX and sister FXX also have a similar split, in that comedy and drama air on both networks, but there are still some distinctions.
In opening the WarnerMedia upfront — which essentially took over what had been, until this year, the Turner upfront — CEO John Stankey told advertisers that the company’s new streaming service would include an advertising component in its second phase.
Without getting into details on programming strategy for the new service just yet, Reilly did take a subtle jab at the current streamers’ “binge and burn mentality that dilute the impact of even the best content. We’re looking to be antidote to that.”
O’Brien, meanwhile had some fun with the fact that WarnerMedia still hasn’t selected a name for its streaming service.
“I like their slogan, ‘Make WarnerMedia your seventh streaming service,'” he quipped. He also joked that names under consideration include “HBO Plus, WarnerMedia Now and my personal favorite, Stankeyvision.” And he couldn’t help but take a dig at his new corporate parent: “Because this is AT&T, after the show there will be a terrible reception,” he joked. “And because it’s AT&T, the afterparty only has two bars!”