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Volume 24 No. 117
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Turner's Levy Acknowledges Networks Know More Changes Coming To Content Delivery

The reports of TV sports’ demise may be premature, but programmers with a long view are preparing for even more radical changes to content delivery. Turner President David Levy told the ’17 CAA World Congress of Sports crowd during a featured interview that declining sports ratings are not as dire as some believe. “If you have competitive games, big brands, and good story lines the ratings will be just fine,” he said. Levy also said ratings numbers do not capture the audience like they used to. Levy: “Consumption is happening on different platforms. You have to monetize on all those platforms.” He said some programming tweaks have also helped boost Turner’s numbers. “We’re taking commercial time out of NBA on Mondays and adding sponsored content, relevant content. It’s not a commercial.” The bottom line: “If you have fewer commercials, more content gives you higher ratings.”

ROOM WHERE AMAZON HAPPENED: Levy noted he "wasn’t in the room where Amazon discussed (the NFL Thursday Night streaming deal),” drawing a distinction between Amazon’s streaming business and a TV network. “They have different mechanisms and results they look at and what’s a measure of success for them. The first opportunity for them is, it’s not about ratings and ads. It’s a different business.  Amazon is a large distributor of NFL merchandise. Maybe they’re looking to sell more merchandise.” Levy added that the technological delivery is also different and much more customized for digital consumption. “What they do is very different than what Turner can do,” he said. “(Amazon) can send different ads directly addressable to each of those (NFL game) viewers. Today Turner Broadcasting can’t do that.”

DIRECT DELIVERY: He said Turner is exploring novel ways to generate additional revenue from its properties with more direct-to-consumer options. “We’re having discussions about [letting consumers buy the] last two minutes or five minutes of a game,” Levy said. “I think you will at some point. It doesn’t have to be a million people doing it. If you’re a fan of a certain school or sport and willing to pay 99 cents or $3, it may be worth it."

STILL SWINGING: Levy noted TV remains the biggest “reach vehicle” and that in the next round of rights deals for the NFL and MLB in '21-22, the networks will again be the big bidders, with tech firms such as Facebook, Amazon or Twitter as partners, not competitors. “You have to hope you’ll generate the next generation of fans,” he said. “I think you’ll see situations where we combine with those platforms and they’ll create content around the edges of that programming. I don’t know you’ll see them competing for 'Sunday Night Football,' but I think you’ll see them working with these broadcasters.”

E-GAME ON: E-sports is not a fad, he said, and that the network has gotten “very positive results” with its eLeague. He also said there are untapped opportunities beyond the professional ranks: “People aren’t focusing on the amateur (video game player). I want to see if we can have a relationship with the amateur, set up tournaments, you’ll have IP lined up with you. If you can bundle all the handicap-7 people to play together, you can do Pro-Ams with pros and tournaments. There’s a real opportunity in e-sports right now to be a part of the amateur play.”

Quick Hits:
* "When you go after rights you have to go after them all and platforms that may not exist today. The consumption of content is happening across all different platforms and you have to make sure you have all the media rights.”

* "The definition of a network will change in five years. Bleacher Report could be a network in five years.”

* “A year today is like five years [before]. We are three to five years away from seeing the definition of network changing. It doesn’t mean there won’t be TV, but the opportunity of how you distribute your content will change.”