Koonin Leaves Turner to Run Atlanta Hawks

Search starts to replace exec who put drama in TNT and comedy in TBS
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Steve Koonin is leaving his post as president of Turner Entertainment Networks to become CEO and a minority owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

Turner Broadcasting president David Levy, in a memo to the company, said that a search for a replacement, including internal and external candidates, begins immediately.

“I’ll work closely with the Turner entertainment Networks leadership team to sustain our momentum through the critical upfront season while engaging longer-term thinking on our entertainment network and the qualities and fit required of the next executive leader of Turner Entertainment Networks,” Levy said.

Koonin joined Turner 14 years ago. Known as a marketer, Koonin was involved in branding TNT as a network for dramas. Then later, he branded TBS as a network for comedies. 

One of his outstanding moments came during Turner’s upfront three years ago when the audio-visual system went down he averted embarrassment for the company by jumping on  stage to keep media buyers engaged until repairs could be made.

Koonin becomes the fifth senior Turner executive to leave the company in the past six months. CEO Phil Kent retired at the end of 2013 and was replaced by John Martin, who had been CFO of parent company Time Warner, while Levy was promoted to president of Turner Broadcasting. Earlier this month, Greg D’Alba, who had been COO and head of ad sales for CNN, left the company after more than 27 years after reorganization. In March, Stu Snyder left his position as president and COO of Turner’s Animation, Young Adults & Kids Media division and Jack Wakshlag, longtime chief research officer of Turner Broadcasting, stepped down as well.

In his memo, Levy had mixed emotions about Koonin’s departure. “On one hand, I’ll miss Steve’s vision, creativity and leadership at TNT, TBS, truTV and Turner Classic Movies.  Their success is a direct result of his professional and personal investment.  I know that many of you would use those same words to describe his influence on you and your work.  There’s no better tribute than that,” he said. "On the other hand, I am pleased for Steve that his next challenge is so right for him now.  Most of us are lucky to claim one dream job in a career.  Steve is going to a third one (after Coca-Cola and Turner) that will leverage his passion, experience and hometown Atlanta roots in a very exciting way.  So while it’s a big change, it’s a good one—for Steve and, ultimately, for the Turner businesses he has led.”

Turner has been a long-time broadcast partner of the NBA and at one time Ted Turner owned the Hawks. Turner is in the process of renewing its rights deal with the NBA.

As CEO of The Hawks, Koonin will oversee all business, financial and strategic operations of the Hawks and Philips Arena.

"Steve Koonin’s reputation as a game changer in both marketing and media makes him the ideal leader to usher the Atlanta Hawks into a new era. He has created a legacy as an expert in sports marketing, television, branding and digital media," said Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson, in a statement. "The Hawks are thrilled that Steve is joining the ownership group as both our CEO and a partner.”

In a memo to the staff at Turner, Koonin said:

“It is no secret that I have a passionate love of sports, particularly for our local teams. In the past few months, I was invited to become an investor in the Atlanta Hawks. During our investor conversations, it became quickly apparent that the Hawks needed local leadership as well as a face and voice for the franchise.

“Now comes the hard part. I am very glad my iPad is waterproof. Absolutely none of my success would be possible without the amazing talents of the people that worked with me day in and day out for the past 5,156 days. I have watched my direct report leadership teams grow into world class strategy, finance, PR, business affairs, on-air, marketing, programming, business operations, sponsorship, digital and brand-building executives of all four of our networks."

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