It was just over a year ago that famed network executive Kevin Reilly joined the Turner family as president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment. The former FX, NBC and FOX exec is a champion of the no-pilot-season strategy that resulted in launching quality content throughout the year not just during the fall season. A bit too green in his Turner role to present at last year’s Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Reilly came out a blazing at this year’s tour announcing a complete reinvention of TBS and TNT and a $1 billion investment to back it up. An investment strategy that will span for the better part of three years, Reilly adds.
So what’s happening to TNT and TBS? Here we break down the what and why involved in this network reinvention and how it impacts TV viewers.
- The reinvention starts by rewriting the rules for what the definition of a network is – it’s no longer just a linear channel (linear channel being you turn on your TV to Channel XX and watch TV). “The spirit of this company was set many years ago by Ted Turner who defined what cable television was. And frankly, we intend to rewrite the rules now to lead the transition to the next era to define what a TV network is in years to come,” Reilly says.
- While TNT and TBS are two of the most profitable and most watched entertainment networks on TV globally, Reilly acknowledges that ratings are down for both networks (he predominantly blames the inadequate Nielsen measurement system). The plan is to more sharply define who they are as a network to meet viewer demands for both original content and a better viewing experience (more on that below).
- The strategy behind their reinvention is built around four primary tent poles (a bit more heavy in corporate talk but it’s helpful to know the game plan): premium original content; improving the consumer experience; the creation of a new business paradigm; and investments in growth.
- For TBS the vision is to become a destination for originals and comedy where they build a deep connection with a younger audience. To do so, Reilly says they plan to “fill the [comedy] void with unapologetic, daring, original, live comedy and animated comedy and talk shows and build a bridge between what is the current TBS and Adult Swim.” Seven new series have been ordered, including a project from Conan O’Brien titled People of the Earth, about a support group for alien abductees. Three hilariously awesome immediate additions include a project from Steve Carell and Nancy Carell — Angie Tribeca (pictured above) — starring Rashida Jones, which debuts Jan. 17. Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee’s new Full Frontal With Samantha Bee is funny-smart and begins Feb. 8. And in April The Detour (a disastrous family road trip — think We’re The Millers meets The Middle) is set to premiere, which comes from comic super-couple Samantha Bee and Jason Jones (pictured below).
- Sports is still a big part of the TBS and TNT brand. For the first time ever, the NCAA basketball championship, Division 1 basketball championship will air on TBS. Another game changer for 2016 is the investment in ELeague, the network’s new e‑sports business. Reilly explains it as “a huge next‑generation entertainment experience that we’re going to build in partnership with IMG and Valve, a major game publisher. Were building to 10‑week seasons, a game every day online and a game of the week on television. This will be both an online and televised experience, all building to a bracketed championship round.”
- The strategy for TNT is less procedural and more gritty. “Bolder, more cinematic fare — series that are less by the book, more engaging, challenging and, we like to say, more muscular,” Reilly explains. “And we’re looking to muscle our way right into the top consideration set of the very best of what’s on television and hopefully knock out a few competitors while we do.” This was evidenced with their planned summer debut of the Ellen Barkin-led dysfunctional crime family sizzler Animal Kingdom (pictured above). Also on tap for later this year is the M. Night Shyamalan-helmed Tales From the Crypt programming block.
- Don’t panic: TNT is not abandoning procedural shows that are working. “I’ll tell you, we have shows on our air that may not align exactly with this, but no network is the same thing all the time. I am very grateful to have that audience of Major Crimes,” Reilly says. “I love what’s gone on in Librarians. That’s a fun show that’s nowhere else on television. We can move these different audiences through, and I’m happy to have those shows on the air for years. So this is the last year of Rizzoli. The transition will happen, but that’s just sort of the way that went down.”
- This year marks the final season for Rizzoli & Isles. “It’s had a good run. It felt like it was time, and we all kind of discussed it, and everyone said, ‘Yeah, let’s go out, finish 13 great ones, and call it a day.’ Everybody felt good about that,” Reilly explains.
- Improving the consumer experience for Reilly means not only providing content on over‑the‑top apps and streaming platforms so viewers can watch and binge on their own, it also means improving their linear service. To improve consumer experience he intends to reduce the amount of advertising and add potentially up to eight to 10 minutes of additional program time per hour to some of their new dramas on TNT. “TV is the best advertising delivery mechanism ever invented. It’s unparalleled for building brands and moving consumers but we have overstuffed the bird,” Reilly explains. “That not only dilutes the quality of the viewers’ experience but also the effectiveness of ads.”
- As for their last tent pole strategy — investment in growth in their network business — Turner’s in soft launch on a new startup company called Super Deluxe, a digital content creator and a tech product incubator that’s focused on mobile first consumption. “What this is going to do is provide us an exciting not only content incubator in the digital space, but it’s going to keep us connected with young audiences online and that we know we can talk to and activate on a daily basis,” Reilly says. The Turner Group also purchased iStreamPlanet, a streaming platform, and they are working to developing an over‑the‑top platform offering.