Upfront Notebook: Turner Seeks Support for Less Ads

Comedians say TV’s not dead, no joke

At a presentation designed to sell commercials, Turner Broadcasting made a pitch for having fewer of them.

Turner has already cut the number of ads at its truTV network and plans to air fewer spots—and more content—in new drams coming to TNT.

Fewer commercials mean “a better environment for you to tell your stories,” said Donna Speciale, president of ad sales at Turner.

Already, in shows with lower ad loads, commercial recall is up 35% and intent to purchase is up 38% she said.

“NBC, A+E, Fox and Viacom have noticed our move and are joining us in reducing ad loads,” she said. “We need you the ad community to support these moves. It is critical for all of us.”

Some of the reduced ad space is being filled with branded content. Turner has launched content studios at its networks including CNN and Adult Swim. A new one is being launched by Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco. One recent example was content made by the creators of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken for the film Batman v Superman.

“These stories are holding your customers attention during native content,” according to a Turner video.  “In the past few months, we’ve replaced over two hours of traditional ad pods, increasing brand recall and brand affinity.”

Turner is also pitching data as a way to boost advertising effectiveness.

"Massive reach is not enough. We must deliver premium content at scale with the personalization you crave from digital,” said Speciale.

Speciale said clients have already used Turner Ignite products like Targeting Now and Audience Now and have achieved proven, measurable results.

“This is what Turner is delivering today now. Turner has reimagined every aspect of our business to make the experience better for fans and deliver big results for our advertisers."

During the presentation, Turner had several of its shows' hosts address the state of television.

Adam Conover of truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything held up himself as an example of TV’s continued vitality.

Conover noted that he was once a maker of web content that got millions of views. “No one cared about what I did. I had 2,000 followers and was getting paid in mean comments,” he said.  “I am on truTV now. It’s so much better. No one ever said congratulations you’re on BuzzFeed. You made it.”

“Our show is proof that when you combine the innovation of digital with the reach and impassioned fan base of TV, that’s where the magic happens,” he said.

Billy Eichner, of truTV’s Billy on the Street, appeared, saying that Turner asked him to pose the question: Is television dead? “They told me to tell you no.”

But Eichner said “I agree with them. It isn’t. It has about three years to live. That’s not dead. But dying people don’t like to be treated like they’re dying. It’s with that joyful spirit I’m greeting you here today.”

Eichner went on one of his inimitable rants. He noted that another truTV show, Impractical Jokers was doing a cruise for fans that sold out. “I wish I liked my fans enough to be stuck on a boat with them. I’d rather die,” he said. “truTV is doing cruises. That will show Netflix."

Another truTV series, Those Who Can’t, is about “a group of people trying to find truTV.”

And looking into the audience where Turner seated the talent from its shows, Eichner noted “I see a lot of actors. I don’t see a lot of celebrities.”

Turner’s show opened with what was supposed to be an election year style Town Hall debate about the future of television featuring Conan O’Brien and Charles Barkley, moderated by Anderson Cooper.

Asked about reimagining TV, Barkley said “I have no earthly idea.... This is not my expertise… I’ll let [Conan] handle the television questions. I’ll handle the sports related questions.”

Barkley and Conan then discussed the likelihood that the Cavaliers would meet the Thunder in the NBA finals.

Cooper said he wasn’t following the conversation. “I’m gay and my eyes have glazed over,” he said. “You chose this time to tell us? I didn’t know,” responded O’Brien.

That set the tone for the Town Hall.

When it was over, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer broke in with breaking news from the Situation Room. “Opening sketch is done. Better than expected. Getting fairly decent laughs for something at 10 in the morning.”