Exiting Turner Chief Helped Lift Cable, but Leaves One Unfinished Mission

Helped Propel TV Everywhere, Added Original Programming to TBS and TNT

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Turner Broadcasting Chairman-CEO Phil Kent, who was instrumental in injecting original programming into TNT and TBS, is stepping down in January, the company said today. He will be succeeded as CEO by John Martin, CFO at Turner parent Time Warner. Mr. Kent will stay on as chairman for a transitional period.

Phil Kent
Phil Kent

It is not clear whether Mr. Kent has a next endeavor lined up. "At Phil's initiation, he and I agreed that now is the right time to announce the next generation of leadership," Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said in a statement.

Mr. Kent helped get the cable industry to its position today, when many young viewers don't discern between broadcast networks and younger competitors such as TBS. He also tried to help implement TV's response to competition from digital streaming services, the digital offerings for cable subscribers known as TV Everywhere.

"Phil ushered in a huge amount of change and has played a big role in the industry overall," said Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible. "He has been a big advocate for TV Everywhere and brought in a renaissance at Turner."

When Mr. Kent took the helm in 2003, about 60% of programming hours were tied to reruns and syndication, Mr. Wible said. Since then, Turner has shifted to originals, beefed up its investment in sports rights and has seen a huge ratings recovery, he added.

One of Mr. Kent's first orders of business was restructuring Turner, separating the company's entertainment, news and kids' units into three divisions.

Mr. Kent, who has been at Turner since 1993 and previously held posts there including president of CNN News Group, left briefly but returned in 2003 to replace Jamie Kellner as CEO. He was charged in part with reviving CNN after it fell behind Fox News and after discussions to merge CNN with ABC News ended.

'Cougar Town' on Turner's TBS, which picked it up after ABC dropped it
'Cougar Town' on Turner's TBS, which picked it up after ABC dropped it

CNN fell further behind Fox News during Mr. Kent's tenure and was regularly beaten out by MSNBC as well, although it recently regained the No. 2 spot. Mr. Kent's recent hire of Jeff Zucker is his potential saving grace -- if it works. Since joining CNN as president earlier in the year, Mr. Zucker has made some major off-camera and on-air personnel decisions, introduced a new morning show and incorporated more lifestyle programming to its weekend time slots.

Before Turner, Mr. Kent was a TV packaging agent at CAA. He began his career at Blair & Co., where he helped start the TV syndication unit.

Mr. Kent's successor, Mr. Martin, became CFO in 2008. He previously served as exec VP and CFO of Time Warner Cable. Before that he spent nearly 12 years at Time Warner in roles such as senior VP for investor relations.

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