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Turner Broadcasting's John Martin


Turner Broadcasting Chairman and CEO John Martin is Re-imagining TV

To Turner Broadcasting Chairman and CEO John Martin, the key to the company’s success has been reimagining TV to better interact with fans in new ways using the latest technologies, as well as insights gleaned from enhanced data gathering capabilities. Turner, a Time Warner company, is a global entertainment and news business that has stayed ahead by creating premium content and delivering exceptional experiences to its engaged viewers, creating the most valuable kind of audience — fans.

As an influential media company, Turner has a portfolio of premium news, entertainment, kids and young adult, and sports programming. Its well-known brands include CNN, ELEAGUE, HLN, TBS, TNT, TCM, truTV, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, Bleacher Report, Boomerang, iStreamPlanet, Super Deluxe and Turner Sports.

Previously, Martin was chief financial and administrative officer of Time Warner Inc., where he headed finance, accounting, mergers and acquisitions among other areas. Prior to that, in 2008, Martin served as executive vice president and CFO of Time Warner Cable Inc. among other executive roles. He began working at the company in 1993 as a manager of SEC financial reporting and then took over the reins of Turner in 2014. Before joining Time Warner, he was a CPA working as a senior accountant at Ernst and Young LLP in New York.

Martin, 50, has received numerous honors for his leadership including Adweek’s Power List: Top 100 Leaders in Media, Marketing and Tech as well as Variety’s New Power New York List. i3 recently spoke with him about how his media company is embracing technology and Turner’s plans at CES 2018.

How do you define disruption in the media?

Our industry is facing what we call a “race to the center.” Traditional digital and technology players are racing to become more proficient in content creation and delivery, while traditional content companies — like Turner — are racing to become more proficient in using data and technology. Technology has changed consumption habits, which has changed — or blown up — traditional business models for our industry. The result is a paradigm shift toward the need to deliver excellent experiences that create dedicated fans. Producing premium content is what we do best, but now we are making investments in technology and enhancing our ability to gather and apply data to have a bigger impact on how we conduct our business. Given our progress to date, I like our chances in this race very much.

You have been transforming Turner from an ad-supported basic cable network company to a fan engagement company with technology as the hub. How does your CES strategy help that transformation?

Traditionally, CES was a sales opportunity for us. Only recently did we pivot our CES strategy toward highlighting our brands, talent, industry expertise and technology efforts. An example of that is Turner Sports leading the Sports Business Innovation effort at CES. This year, among many other things, we will be showcasing the efforts behind our technological transformation. As we continue to enhance and advance our global technology operations, partner relationships, and strategic technology investments, we want to make the world aware of the strength of our overall in-house technical capabilities.

As Turner becomes a technology company and brings a new innovative market to fans, how will the merger with AT&T and access to their 130 million subscribers help that reach?

While Turner will never be considered a pure technology company, we will always continue to enhance our in-house technology, innovation and data efforts. To that end, joining forces with AT&T provides an incredible landscape for us to work collaboratively to try to innovate together, create new products and more value for fans, distributors, content creators and advertisers. The combined company will allow our complementary strengths to lead the next wave of innovation in our industries and help us reach our tech goals much faster than we could have on our own.

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality are three huge opportunities to use technology to transform how media is consumed. How does Turner support these mediums?

We are constantly exploring new ways to deliver premium experiences to our fans, and that includes enhancing our capabilities with artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality across all of our brands. Recent examples include Turner Sports offering VR coverage of March Madness, including ticketing options for virtual courtside seat views and 360-degree highlights, among other things. For ELEAGUE’s CS:GO Premier 2017, we provided a VR experience to bring the fan inside the game while still enjoying the 2D presentation of the live action. In news, CNN partnered with Volvo Cars USA for a 360-degree virtual reality livestream of the 2017 solar eclipse. We have more to come, so stay tuned.

Now that Amazon’s Alexa will have a screen, are there plans to allow Turner content through Alexa, IBM’s Watson or Google Assistant?

We’re always looking to expand our offerings across different platforms across all our brands. Currently, we have a custom skill on the Amazon Show, Alexa, Echo, and Tap, which allows users to request the latest news on any story CNN is covering. We serve up near real-time audio and video — setting CNN apart from its competitors. Earlier this year, Turner Sports also launched Catch Sports, a new innovative product serving as a digital “personal assistant” for fans. It helps them navigate various channels and platforms so that they can follow live sports coverage whenever and wherever they choose. There’s a lot of opportunity in this space, and I’m excited to see the Turner brands innovating to tap into it.

TV viewers are often frustrated by commercials, and likely why Netflix and Hulu are so popular. How are you addressing that?

We’re on a mission to eliminate advertising clutter and create a more viewer-friendly commercial environment. If you want to stay ahead in the game, it is a given that you must reinvent yourself and break away from historical precedent. In late 2015, Turner was the first media company to significantly reduce ad clutter, first on truTV primetime and then on TNT’s original programming. Reducing commercial interruptions by half on that programming made our fans happier — seeing ratings lifts, increased brand affinity, and provided a C3 lift. We’re going to continue investing in this as we push for greater fan engagement.

Another part of our strategy is to focus on expanding content distribution and monetizing opportunities that go beyond the traditional television ecosystem. Changing our technology infrastructure is allowing us to look at new business opportunities, and enhancing our ability to launch new direct-to-consumer services like FilmStruck and Boomerang. These new opportunities allow our fans to engage with the content they love how, when and where they want to.

Data and algorithms are important aspects of digital advertising. You’ve talked a lot about personalized linear TV — are you looking to have a Netflix-like system that recognizes the viewer based on watching habits collected by a home router?

We are now in the business of creating fan-first experiences. Changing our underlying broadcast technology to an IP infrastructure, migrating our physical data centers, applications and content libraries to the public cloud and infusing data into both our technologies and decision making are transformative steps for us. The result will be the ability to adapt to new business models — whether it’s direct-to-consumer, ad-supported or transactional.

Personalized networks, video-on-demand playlists and content discovery/playback with social media are just some of the capabilities we already have or are in the works. Very soon, we’ll have the ability to create a viewing experience that resembles Spotify around personalized playlists. We have set ourselves up to lead the industry around this whole notion of personalized content.

The growth of esports, the rise in recreational professional gaming viewing, shows that Turner is attracting the 16-35 year old viewers with Turners’ ELEAGUE. How will you expand the base in the U.S. and are there plans to bring back the Road to Vegas ELEAGUE finals to CES?

One of the great things about Turner as a whole, and something that is great for our long-term business is that we reach more than 70 percent of millennials every month. And our audiences in many cases are getting younger.

In a very short period of time, ELEAGUE has established itself as a premium tournament and content brand that has been widely embraced by the esports community. We’re very committed to growing the brand. This fall alone, we featured our third Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) season and our first-ever Injustice 2 World Championship, among other high-profile events. We also expanded the brand through the creation of the GEICO ELEAGUE Amateur Series.

For us, the key metric is fan engagement and that couldn’t be more true with esports. We recognize it is a digital native property and we’ve seen great response across Twitch and other digital platforms. For last year’s ELEAGUE Major Grand Final, we set a new all-time record on Twitch with over one million concurrent streams. And with TBS, we have an opportunity to showcase this content and reach a broader audience, including some that may be new to esports. As a result, we are also seeing new, younger viewers coming to TBS. We couldn’t be more pleased with the initial success of ELEAGUE and will continue to grow our esports portfolio both domestically and on a global scale. Our CES plans are still being finalized, but our presentation of the Sports Business Innovation effort will be something folks will want to attend.

Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are all in the market for episodic content. Will Turner be providing content to this group?

It’s amazing how quickly our industry is evolving and how popular these platforms are with our fans. It is why we are always exploring new touchpoints for our fans. For example, we premiered truTV’s I’m Sorry on Facebook, The Chris Gethard Show on Reddit, and aired Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty on Instagram. And CNN is doing great things on Snapchat. My daughter doesn’t watch TV — she’s 20 — but she is still getting her news from CNN. Just via Snapchat. The key for us is having platform experts who drive the creative process and content creation specific for each platform.

At CES 2017, Turner introduced Turner Ignite Sports. How has branded content on social channels brought new value to Turner?

Marketing today is extremely difficult, and even more difficult to do well. Audiences are on all sorts of platforms and devices, and the ad tech and marketing services underpinning all of those ecosystems are just as fragmented. Turner Ignite, and our extension into sports in Turner Ignite Sports, delivers data and content solutions that tap into Turner’s massive content footprint, ultimately leading to a more engaged fan experience, as well as better return on investment for clients. With all of the ways consumers can access premium content, brands now have an opportunity to be “always on” and connect with fans in a genuine, contextually relevant way like never before. In that sense, we are not only re-imagining TV at Turner, but we are re-imagining marketing as well.

Bleacher Report is reaching fans that were underserved by the big networks. The Bleacher Report and Turner union seems to work. What have you learned from each other?

When industry insiders heard that we wanted to buy Bleacher Report back in 2012, a lot of people thought we were crazy — they just couldn’t understand why we would be interested in an online platform, but it really has become one of our greatest investments. We saw it for the brand and sports destination it wanted to become. While TBS and TNT are home to sports programming, we weren’t considered a go-to for sports fans on a regular basis. So, we are really proud with Bleacher’s success and what they bring to our business, and it is clear Bleacher has benefited too. We have been able to provide them with significantly more resources, a new business strategy and the opportunity to use sports events on our networks to drive fans to Bleacher Report’s mobile app and their Instagram account — which is now the number one destination for sports video consumption.

Anything else you would like to add?

Our responsibility is to inform and entertain the world, and we take that responsibility seriously. To do it well, we as a company have to accurately reflect the world around us and our audiences. That is why one of our signature corporate efforts is to increase diversity and inclusion in media and technology. Improving diversity and inclusion within the tech and media industries are extremely important to me and critical to our success as a company. If we want to be a successful global company, then we have to ensure that our workforce reflects our fans. That is why we have cross-industry partnerships with organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute to increase the representation of women and people of color in tech. I’m incredibly proud of the progress we have made and look forward to working with my colleagues to make a lasting impact across our industry.

Cindy Loffler Stevens

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