Add Time Warner to the TV network owners who predict a big uptick in sales at this year’s upfront ad market.
“Given the strong scatter market and low cancellations, all signs point to the best upfront we’ve seen in years,” Turner CEO John Martin told analysts in a call to discuss the company’s strong Q1 earnings.
To make sure that happens, “we’re spending a lot of time and investment” to “lead the charge to modernize TV advertising,” he says. Turner will provide buyers with data similar to what they see from internet companies with more detail than Nielsen has provided about the viewers who watch specific shows.
“We’re trying to combine the best of TV and digital…that’s one reason we’re very bullish about the upfronts,” Martin says. “That’s going to be a major, major focus.”
CFO Howard Averill said that he expects ad sales to improve by a mid-to-high single digit percentage in the current quarter, helped by the strong scatter market and the NCAA championship game.
Most of the expected ad strength is due to interest in political news, which helps CNN, and in sports. But although ratings at the entertainment networks declined in Q1, “overall domestic entertainment advertising was fine.”
Turner has said that it plans to cut the ad load on truTV, hoping to command higher rates for each spot. And while Martin said he wasn’t ready to announce anything today, “we’re already beginning to plan for [a similar change] on some of our other networks.”
CEO Jeff Bewkes didn’t directly answer a question about whether his company might offer its programming to the newly announced Hulu Live — but says he’s pleased to see new selling opportunities.
“Our networks, Turner and HBO, are among the most desired networks for consumers and therefore [should] be included in all of these packages,” he says. About 85% of Turner’s affiliate fees come from four networks, suggesting that the company has little at risk if others are left out of a new collection of skinny bundles.
The rise of online providers points to “a very vibrant rebirth of the strength of TV networks and TV programming across all of these distribution platforms,” Bewkes adds. “We’re going to try to be available in all of the packages consumers are interested in.”
That should result in rising demand for pay TV channels as consumers “find more packages that suit what they want.”
Still, Martin says, “there’s too many networks in the United States” that means “marginal or lesser valued networks are going to find it very difficult to keep their footing and keep pace with the best networks.”
As the weak ones fade away “we’re going to be able to attract back households into the multichannel ecosystem that have frankly moved away because they don’t see the value of the bundles.”
On other matters: Martin talked up eLeague — Turner’s new eSports partnership with WME-IMG that launches this summer. It’s “one of the innovations with respect to content that we’re particularly excited about and proud of,” he says.
The airings planned for TBS are “somewhat of an experiment.” But it could result in the development of “a big franchise and a big asset” for TV and digital platforms.
HBO chief Richard Plepler didn’t provide an update on the number of subscriptions at his new streaming service, HBO Now. The company said in February that it had 800,000.
He offered, though, that “we’ve had a good start with sub growth this year” in its traditional pay TV business as well as online. “As we learn more and more about our subscribers and our marketing becomes more precise, particularly with Now, I think we’re going to do even better.”