Q+A for Steve Koonin


After heading up TNT and TBS for the past six years, Steve Koonin was recently named president of Turner Entertainment Networks, adding Court TV and Turner Classic Movies to his oversight. Koonin talked with B&C's Anne Becker about nabbing viewers from broadcast and changing viewer lifestyles.

Any plans to rebrand Court TV and TCM the way you did TNT and TBS?

Both of these have terrific brands. With TBS and TNT, we moved from general entertainment to branded entertainment. Both TCM and Court already are well-branded entertainment brands, so it's more polishing than rebuilding.

How will you change Court TV's programming?

The direction they're going in with real-life programming is 100% correct. There are lots of different venues within the context of the brand that we can develop. You will see some higher-profile programming events in the future.

Why the move to beef up TBS' late-night with original comedies?

The fastest-growing area of viewership is post-prime, 11 p.m. and later. It's growing exponentially faster than prime. The people are younger and have a different lifestyle. This will give us another opportunity to talk to our audience where and when they want. This is an audience that doesn't wait until the 11 p.m. newscast to consume news. 11 p.m. is the new primetime to this audience, and we're going to play here in a big way.

Will you bring back late-night interactive game show Midnight Money Madness?

It was an eight-week experiment with [co-producer] Endemol to learn what draws audiences to participate. Now we're working on major projects with Endemol with text-messaging at their core. We learned that people want to play along at home. Thirty to 40% of viewers participated, which is astronomical.

If, like NBC, other broadcast networks drop dramas at 8 p.m., does that open a window for cable to grab more viewers?

NBC surrendering, or I'm not sure exactly what they're doing, is not a trend. I don't see Fox, ABC or The CW [doing the same]. CBS has already come out and said this is not an industry issue. We have been and will continue to be counter-punchers that are able to erode network audiences by being in the place, the time and the programming the viewer wants. We like the summer because broadcast closes down, and this could be another opportunity worth exploiting.

Why are the Turner networks opting out of Nielsen's commercial ratings?

[Turner research chief] Jack [Wakshlag] is phenomenal, and I leave this for him. I'm literally learning when I read the articles you are writing. It just seems like a bunch of discrepancies, and Jack and other industry leaders don't believe the value's there and don't want to be involved in something that doesn't deserve fairness in value.

Are you worried about Law & Order's popularity fizzling?

Let's be clear: It's still one of top three shows on television. I don't think there's a network on cable who wouldn't take Law & Order today. Just like every program, we anticipate [when] we are out of [it]. It's a fact of life. It's gravity. We invest significant resources to expand our schedule with Without a Trace, Cold Case and others, and we develop our own hits like The Closer to fill those gaps. While Law & Order has certainly come off its all-time high, it's still a significant contributor and something we're very proud to have.

With a ton of serialized shows on broadcast this fall and no breakout hit, are you nervous there won't be enough to eventually acquire?

TNT will continue to do very well, even though there might be a year or two where the broadcast networks stumble in developing programming that one day has a life in syndication. One of the biggest success stories not being talked about this year is [CBS'] Criminal Minds, which is not a serialized show. One of the beauties of cable is, we get to buy hits and we're able to sit and judge and see real consumer results. There might not be anything from this class to go buy, but things like Criminal Minds will keep the pipeline full.

Do you see digital distribution as a promotional tool or a revenue builder?

We have a hit site, veryfunnyads.com, [with] over 20 million streams. We are taking a very strategic approach to the Web. We will make some announcements in the next few weeks of our '07 [broadband programming] lineup on both networks. One day, learning should switch to earning, but today, it's all about learning.