Power Play

Turner says what it has to sell deserves top dollar


Cable Inches Up

Going into the upfront season, Turner Broadcasting is preaching a new message: The industry is now a "one-television world," and viewers don't see a difference between cable and broadcast. Turner ad-sales execs hope the advertising community gets with the program.

As they prep their pitch to agency planners and clients, B&C got an exclusive peek at the presentation and strategy for directing broadcast dollars to TBS Superstation and TNT. "As ratings disappear elsewhere in this TV universe, Turner's ratings continue to grow," says Turner Entertainment Sales President David Levy. "In this marketplace, that is a substantial statement."

Agencies, are you listening? Broadcast ratings, the cable giant notes, are tumbling. The audience is aging. And many of the shows broadcasters touted as the next big thing were history in weeks.

But on TBS and TNT—
so the Turner argument goes—
there's big-name product and stability. The channels boast proven hits. TNT's drama roster leads with Law & Order
and recent acquisition Without a Trace, while TBS runs stellar comedies, like Seinfeld
and, come June, Sex and the City. Both channels also offer big theatricals, and TNT runs blue-chip sports with the NBA and NASCAR. And there's a smattering of original series.

Of course, even a mediocre broadcast show usually delivers bigger numbers. Network execs don't discourage advertisers from buying broadcast. They just think they should invest more in Turner. "This is not about broadcast-bashing," says Linda Yaccarino, Turner's EVP of sales. "We want to create a Turner budget."

Thus, Turner is championing opportunities for promotions and product placement. On TBS, they offer movie franchises, like Movie & a Makeover
and Man Made Movies, where advertisers can hype products during interstitial programming. These product placements have a 100% renewal rate, the company says. On TNT, advertisers can sponsor segments of shows, like Law & Order
and movie franchises.

Another Turner tactic to entice advertisers is exclusive sponsorships in marquee titles, such as Sex and the City,
upcoming original TNT series The Grid, and sports. These deals, Levy says, help keep inventory tight and sellout high.

Turner argues its channels shouldn't be compared with its fellow cable networks in the upfront. "Combine our programming with other marketing opportunities," says Yaccarino, and the others "can't compete."

Last year, Levy adds, Turner signed its upfront business at the same time as broadcast networks. (True, broadcasters commanded a much higher premium on CPMs. Turner's were up only slightly.) Although Turner can point to higher ratings and A-list product, he says, it gets pitted against other cable nets for one reason: CPM negotiations.

Buyer, beware: Turner's ready to fight that battle, too.



Cable's Power Plays

Too many deals like these will make it increasingly harder for broadcasters to demand an ad premium--or sky high retrans cash payments