Two years after Kevin Reilly made TCA headlines as he announced that his network Fox was shaking up the TV business model by bypassing pilot season, he was back at press tour to talk about “redefining the rules of what a cable network is” with his new networks, TNT and TBS.
Reilly laid out the plan for “a total reinvention” of the two networks, which includes improving viewer experience by reducing the ad load in original series by 50%.
Ad clutter on basic cable had reached staggering proportions as networks kept increasing inventory to boost the bottom line. Now that basic cable ratings have started to fall virtually across the board — both TNT and TBS posted double-digit declines in 2015 — the nets are starting to re-examine that cash stream. “We have overstuffed the bird,” Reilly said.
Turner’s TruTV recently announced that it was going to reduce ad inventory by 50%. TNT will follow in the footsteps with a similar measure, Reilly said. The initiative will start with three new drama series set to premiere in 2016. Negotiations are underway to have the three projects produce 8-9 more minutes of programming per hour at the expense of ads, whose volume will go down by about 50%. “We’ve been getting a great response from clients,” Reilly said. Ultimately, the goal is to expand the reduction to more series. “It’s the beginning of change for better viewing experience,” Reilly said.
How are the new TBS and TNT brands redefined? TBS will be destination for “unapologetic, daring comedy that builds a bridge with (Turner’s) Adult Swim,” Reilly said. TNT will be “bolder, less by the book, more muscular.”
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Reilly lowered expectations ahead of the rollout of TNT and TBS’ new slates. “Transformation will likely take the better part of the next three years,” he said. “I expect modest ratings initially but I’m looking for deeper connection with the younger audience.” Some of the obstacles will come from the fast-changing TV landscape and the rapid rise of multi-platform viewing. “It’s going to be a hairy couple of years,” Reilly said, “There’s headwinds on a lot of fronts.”
Naturally, premium original content is another focus in Reilly’s plan, which “I believe is the beginning of a new way of looking at the business of what it is to be a cable network.”
To do that, TNT and TBS will be supplementing their programming budget with $1 billion over the next three years. He noted that TBS took advantage of “most other networks abandoning comedy or diminishing their participation in comedy” with more pitches coming through the door from top-notch talent.
Reilly also spoke about Turner Entertainment’s digital initiatives. He described independent subsidiary Super Deluxe, now in soft launch with 45 employees and counting, as “a tech product incubator and digital content creator for mobile first.”
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