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Will the new chairman be Turner’s fountain of youth?

Mar 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In a few years, Ted Turner may not even be able to recognize his own networks.
With WB head Jamie Kellner now calling the shots, look for Mr. Turner’s cable operations to gradually shed their Southern-bred, folksy patina and adopt the same hip, youth-oriented image that put The WB on the map, industry experts say.
Installed as Turner Broadcasting chairman last week, Mr. Kellner promised he will develop a whole range of synergies between his own WB and Turner’s networks, including program sharing, combined ad packages and heavy cross-promotional branding.
The WB will be folded in with Turner Broadcasting System’s cable networks, which include TBS Superstation, Turner Network Television, CNN, Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies. Mr. Kellner will also oversee Turner’s sports properties, which include the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks.
Mr. Kellner called The WB “the missing link” that will bridge the gap between The WB’s kids and teen audience and Turner’s adult demographic.
“Just from an audience demographic reach [The WB] is the one piece missing,” Mr. Kellner said. “It’s that teen, 18 to 34 that’s not part of any of the Turner networks. In effect, you cover everybody from every demographic from the beginning to the end of life.”
Industry observers said the first thing viewers are likely to see from the “new Turner” is a cross-promotional barrage, something expected with the 1996 Time Warner-Turner merger-but squelched by the fiefdoms within the corporate giant.
“I could envision these Turner networks sharing series, or even WB spinoff series showing up on TNT and TBS,” said Larry Gerbrandt, chief operating officer and senior analyst for Paul Kagan Associates. “It makes sense from both an advertising perspective and a programming perspective.”
Resuscitating Turner’s cable network brands, experts say, will be Mr. Kellner’s first priority.
“The Turner networks brands have become less significant-they’ve lost their luster,” said Jessica Reif Cohen, vice president and senior analyst for Merrill Lynch. “Jamie will build that up. I assume he’ll improve the programming and make them more valuable to Time Warner as a cross-promotional platform.”
Besides cross-promoting, Mr. Kellner says The WB and Turner will dip into each other’s program vaults, opening a two-way street between the broadcast and cable networks.
“There might be times where we premiere programs on TBS before The WB,” Mr. Kellner said. “I don’t think that there is any rule to this. One of the exciting things about this [restructure] is that we can experiment and try different kinds of things.”
In addition, The WB’s Hollywood connections will serve to improve TBS and TNT’s programming supply. Mr. Kellner said Turner General Entertainment Networks President Brad Siegel will be seeing WB co-entertainment Presidents Suzanne Daniels and Jordan Levin regularly.