SBJ/March 14-20, 2011/Media

Levy: Tourney already paying off for Turner

Turner executives say the NCAA tournament, which tips off Tuesday, already is paying off for the company, underscoring why it agreed to pay a bigger share of the 14-year, $10.8 billion rights fee than CBS. Turner’s college basketball package helped it persuade DirecTV to begin carrying truTV in high-definition, and Turner’s overall sports schedule helped it complete carriage renewals with several cable operators, including Comcast. Turner’s president of sales, distribution and sports, David Levy, sat down with staff writer John Ourand last week to discuss how the tournament is helping his company’s business.

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How has your first round of cable renewals gone since you signed the NCAA tournament deal?


Levy: We closed the Comcast deal in late December with no fanfare. We didn’t argue in the press. Both sides sat down at the table, and we found the right mix of what we both needed. DirecTV had not been carrying truTV in high-def. We’ve been working with [DirecTV executive vice president] Derek Chang for a couple of weeks to launch in high-def. Now, DirecTV is going to carry all the games in high-def. Eventually, they’ll carry the entire channel. But the games will definitely be up.

Will you eventually have to authenticate people who use March Madness on Demand to make sure only cable subscribers can access those games online?

Levy:
It’s a little early. That might start happening as TV Everywhere starts developing. Let’s say there is a point where TV Everywhere is fully distributed. You’re still going to get it for free. As long as you are a cable, satellite or telco subscriber, and you get TNT, TBS, truTV or CBS, you get it for free. TV Everywhere is probably past the early stage and is in that next phase. Now we have to get this thing up and running.

Do you want to put more sports on truTV?

Levy:
I would like to see it built up. TruTV’s a top-10 cable network that skews to a male audience. Those are facts people don’t even realize. Here we are sitting with a male-skewing top-10 cable network. It would only make sense that we would put sports properties on there.

But it’s not a destination for sports fans. NBA fans know where TNT is, and MLB fans know where TBS is.

Levy:
The NCAA tournament is going to have a lot of people finding truTV — people that never knew where truTV was. Being able to put the crème de la crème of the sports business ­— March Madness — on that property is a huge opportunity. Look at how much exposure that brand will get over the next month. Good or bad, it’s a lot of quality exposure. For the next 14 years, it’s only going to get better. If I add more properties to that, it’s only going to get more relevant.

What will you consider a successful tournament for truTV this year?

Levy:
We’re not looking at ratings for individual networks. It’s hard to compare to CBS last year because it’s a totally different product. We’re going to look at the aggregation of all the different impressions. If that is higher than what CBS did last year — which we assume it will be — then that’s a success. If truTV is less than CBS, that won’t surprise me. If all four networks are less over the full day, that might be surprising.

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