David Levy Lays Out Turner Goals: Mobile, Sports and Big Changes for TruTV
The Time Warner unit’s new president also tells the NATPE crowd that he's less inclined to make changes at TNT and TBS: "If it doesn’t work, there’s a lot more risk."
MIAMI BEACH – David Levy is looking to expand the Turner Broadcasting division of Time Warner into digital, mobile and internationally -- all while continuing to reinvent his current suite of cable channels.
“We’ve got a lot of content ... We’ve got a lot of good video content but we are going to need more,” Levy said on Tuesday, at his first NATPE conference since he was promoted to president of Turner Broadcasting in August. To get that content and make sure Turner is on all relevant distribution platforms and in more places around the world, Levy said he is open to building or using internal resources or by acquiring other companies that fit the company strategy.
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Levy cited the acquisition of website Bleacher Report in 2012 for about $175 million as a good example of what he wants to do. He said Turner needs a dedicated sports site to compete with ESPN, Fox and others when bidding for sports rights, so that they could offer a full branding and revenue opportunity to be competitive. “If they have sports destinations to monetize digital,” he said, “you need it or you will have to bid less and lose rights.”
He explained that buying brings other benefits. “People are incredible resources. Sometimes you’ve got to go external to bring in quality people you don’t have in the company. A lot of those little startups have people that think differently, act differently and offer diversity. So sometimes you buy an organization not just for the brand but also for the management.”
In return, Levy noted that Turner can offer those people things they can’t do themselves. He used Funny Or Die as an example. He said Turner owns between 10 and 20 percent of the site.
“The reason we did that deal is that it is one of the greatest brands in comedy on the Internet, but it had no reach," he said. "We were able to take writers and producers, produce content for advertisers, put it on digital and television and give it the reach that advertisers want from that brand. You have to do it that way. You have to think about the three screens (TV, web and mobile) all the time.”
Levy added that mobile, in particular, is a huge challenge “because it is growing dramatically.”
The key to mobile, and to the future of the business as he sees it, is to be able to collect and analyze data. “Data is so key as to advertising, producing, even programming,” Levy said. “You’ve got to understand who your audience is. It’s about making sure we had the right people to do those things.”
On the programming side, Levy pointed to TruTV as the channel to expect big changes from. Originally launched as Court TV, it has been TruTV since 2008. Turner recently installed new managers. “We’re excited about it," he said.
“It’s the little brand that, I think, has the best opportunity in our company to really make some changes,” he said. “What I mean is that if I make a mistake in programming TruTV, it doesn’t really affect that much of our company bottom line, so I can take more shots. And we will. We’re going to try to change the brand’s infrastructure so it is less about Lizard Lick Towing and Operation Repo and things like that, and more about getting a little more mainstream. We are going to try really unique things because at the end of the day, I can take those shots.”
“With my two oil tankers, TBS and TNT,” he continued, “it’s a little hard to go because if it doesn’t work, there’s a lot more risk. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to take risks with TBS and TNT. Believe me we have to. But TruTV is the best opportunity for us to really take shots and recharge that.”
Levy, who has been with Turner (mostly in sales) for 27 years, spent eight of those years in international. That's an area where he sees future growth. So far Turner’s biggest international moves have been with CNN, TNT and Cartoon Network, which he said is now available in about 30 languages.
Levy said they aren’t looking to do Spanish versions of other channels but domestically will increase promotion to reach the growing Hispanic population in the U.S. In addition, they will increase program elements that appeal to that market.
Worldwide, Levy said there has been a shift from advertisers wanting to do global deals to a new interest in taking a market-by-market approach. “It’s packaged globally,” he said, “but goes locally. The power bases have shifted to in-regions versus having one direct global deal.”