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Upfront and Personal: Turner continues to overhaul ad, content strategies

With the theme of "experience is everything," Turner Broadcasting System Inc.’s May 17 upfront presentation integrated various elements, executives and on-air talents with an expansive multimedia and data presentation, just like the ads and branded content it is looking to sell across platforms.

The event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden opened with a long video featuring various executives, including Turner President David Levy, president of Turner Ad Sales Donna Speciale, and Kevin Reilly, president of TBS (US) and TNT (US) and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment, talking about the company's commitment to producing more and more premium content across different platforms, as well as a continual transformation of ad products that are more connective and efficient for brands and their messages.

On stage, Speciale stayed on point. While noting that "TV is still the most powerful medium for your message,” she noted that "I think we can all agree we are in need of reinvention." She talked about how "helping our partners thrive starts with creating the right experiences for our fans," adding that reductions made in commercial loads two years ago within original programming on truTV (US) and TNT are generating deeper engagement, higher brand awareness, increased levels of purchase intent and ultimately greater sales.

"I understand you’re tired of paying more for less," Speciale told the assembled media buyers and planners. "Well, now consider paying more for more. We’re transforming the experience well beyond television." She went on to mention that whether the platform is mobile, social, over-the-top or video-on-demand, Turner can customize content for each platform to measurable effect, within its "Omni Channel" approach.

Last year, Turner properties tallied 375 million views of branded content in social and digital settings, the executive said. "We’ve built award-winning branded content capabilities to support you. Our deep bench of creators and our brand studios make authentic content to help you connect with your fans," she said.

Calling it a "scalable solution," Speciale also put in a plug for OpenAP, the new TV ad consortium formed by Turner, Fox Networks Group and Viacom Inc. that aims to facilitate audience buying and move away from the industry’s reliance on deals still rooted in gender and age metrics.

As Turner reinvents its portfolios, it hopes advertisers will reciprocate. “We’re doing our part. Now it’s time for you to do yours. Break out of your historical behaviors and push this industry forward," Speciale said. For his part, Reilly, who said Turner is moving quickly “because in this world, if you are not ahead of the wave you are dead in the water,” pushed several new projects as part of the continuing “top-to-bottom rebuild” for both TBS and TNT.

TBS has greenlit four new series: a reboot of the classic game show "The Joker’s Wild," hosted by Snoop Dogg; "Miracle Workers," a heaven-set, workplace comedy, executive-produced by Lorne Michaels and starring Daniel Radcliffe and Owen Wilson; an animated series from "Regular Show" creator J.G. Quintel; and an untitled show from the comedy trio, The Dress Up Gang.

The network is also working with sister company Super Deluxe on an interactive, late-night block. The multiplatform studio will contribute an array of projects that will inhabit 15-minute segments within the 90-minute weekly block.

TBS has also inked a four-year deal with Conan O'Brien's Team Coco that will keep the late-night show "Conan" on the network through 2022 and will further build the brand with expanded digital content, podcasting, gaming and live-event initiatives. In addition, the company is working with filmmaker Ridley Scott to develop a night of original science-fiction fare, which will incorporate hour-long series, short-form programs and other formats initially.

TNT has ordered a pilot for "Highland," a scripted drama written by Liz Sarnoff and starring actress-comedian Margaret Cho, and announced that Daveed Diggs, who earned a Tony for Broadway hit "Hamilton," will star in the network's drama pilot "Snowpiercer." Reilly also plugged "Will," the coming of age story about William Shakespeare, the "world’s first rock star," that joins the network’s lineup in July. An extended trailer from "The Alienist," a psychological thriller about apprehending a serial killer in New York of the 1890s, ended the show to significant applause.

Turner’s presentation placed a heavy emphasis on the company’s talent lineup, including news personalities, such as Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer from CNN (US), Shaquille O’Neal from Turner Sports, and O’Brien and Samantha Bee from TBS. A meeting of the minds and knees — don’t ask — during a conversation between Cooper, O'Brien and Shaq turned awkward, yet ultimately funny.