At Turner’s annual upfront at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, company head Kevin Reilly and ad-sales chief Donna Speciale emphasized the Turner networks’ reach beyond the TV screen and its efforts to reinvent the traditional TV advertising model.

“The industry spends a lot of time talking about the future,” Speciale said. “But talk is not action and we’re not changing fast enough.”

While Reilly described the company as being “trapped by C-3 ratings,” Speciale emphasized the ways Turner is trying to free itself from that trap. She highlighted the company’s move to limit commercial interruption, its participation in the Open AP audience-buying consortium, plus branded content studios Courageous and the all-new Ignite Studios.

Kevin Reilly
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A well-traveled veteran of top exec posts at NBC and Fox, Reilly used a dominant show from NBC to emphasize his points about how Turner is responding to shifts in audience behavior. “If ER were on today, its viewing would be on demand,” he said, calling the current era “the most vibrant time” in TV history.

“We’re in this together, and I have some good news,” he said. With recent show launches like The Alienist and The Last O.G., “we untethered ourselves from linear marketing strategies.” The Alienist drew about 6 million linear viewers, he said. But when all platforms — everything from Sundance to sneak peeks — are added up, it reached 51 million. O.G., similarly, drew 4.2 million linear viewers, but ramped up to 20 million. Social reach got the shows in front of tens of millions more consumers, he added.

That reach beyond traditional air is one reason Turner has renewed 90% of its new shows, Reilly said. TNT, which has long had high-rated originals, is getting younger due to new programming, he told the crowd of ad buyers. Shows like Claws and Animal Kingdom have lowered the network’s average age by 15 years.

As with other upfronts this week, the larger corporate intrigue of the chaotic M&A landscape scarcely drew a mention. Though Conan O’Brien did acknowledge the bigger picture, including potential new owner AT&T’s entanglement with Donald Trump fixer Michael Cohen during an introductory segment that saw him sitting with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Turner Sports personality Shaquille O’Neal. When Cooper said a sign was flashing “one minute left” to the panel, O’Brien said, “Now it’s just flashing ‘Don’t mention AT&T and Cohen.’ Alright, I won’t mention it.”