Media Mavens 2010

Media Mavens: David Levy, Turner Broadcasting System

As Turner Grows Its Properties, Its Cheerleader Is There to Champion the Power of Cable, Importance of Sports

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NEW YORK ( -- Time Warner's Turner Cable unit has ramped up aggressively in recent years: buying CourtTV and turning it into a channel centered around reality-based programming; bringing Conan O' Brien onboard to start a late-night series on TBS; snatching cult-favorite cop show "Southland" after NBC dropped it; and partnering with CBS in an effort that could make the NCAA men's basketball championships even bigger than they already are.

Now it's up to David Levy to make sure this all pays off.

David Levy
David Levy

As president of Turner Broadcasting's ad sales, distribution and sports, Mr. Levy has a daunting set of responsibilities. He has to make certain advertisers want to come onboard Turner's new properties, even as he exhorts them to consider some aggressive pricing proposals. He has to entice cable and satellite operators to consider paying more for the expensive stuff his company launches or acquires. And he has quietly been ramping up Turner's presence among sports broadcasters. TBS a few years ago picked up some of Major League Baseball's playoff games and now will be a custodian of one of TV sports' annual jewels, in the form of the NCAA Final Four.

"There's a lot on the docket," said Mr. Levy, 48. He believes his role gives him a unique view of the engines that drive cable-television operations: ad revenue and programming fees, sure, but also rights to potential new-media distribution. "If I go over sports rights with the NCAA, I can think about what I need to do for ad sales, distribution for mobile rights," he said, citing one idea. His position is designed to give "me the opportunity to think a little bit broader-picture, to make sure that we have all the rights and the content that we need."

At the same time, Mr. Levy and Turner have been throwing some sharp elbows. The network has tried in recent upfronts to cadge broadcast-network pricing for some of its offerings, including the new "Conan" show that is slated to debut in November. "I've certainly been out there cheerleading, putting into the marketing the idea of a one-television world," said Mr. Levy. "People don't put on a cable hat and say they're watching cable television. They watch television."

If Mr. Levy displays some of the bravado of a sports-industry insider, it's because he is one. In recent years, he has hammered out deals with the NBA and MLB that involve multiyear agreements to air some of those leagues' top games. While he started his career at Turner in 1986 as an account director in the entertainment division, he played an important role in developing and supervising the ad-sales division for Turner Sports, later moving to run the company's international advertising-sales unit.

He anticipates sports programming will only grow in importance to TV networks. "There's very, very little after-the-fact viewing or next-day viewing," he said, making sports broadcasts of paramount importance to major marketers. "Social networking is a huge part of it," with the flurry of tweets and posts about games in progress making it nearly impossible for any sports fan to wait hours or days to see how a sports match turned out. "All of that adds to the growth of sports."

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