Turner Offers to Place Ads Next to Relevant Content

Also Introduces Slate That Includes 'Truth in Advertising'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- TNT and TBS are out to prove they could play with the big boys of broadcast. The Turner Broadcasting properties were the first entertainment cable networks to vie for media buyers' ad dollars during the week traditionally dominated by the five national broadcast networks.
Actor/comedian Frank Caliendo of 'Frank TV' and Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin
Actor/comedian Frank Caliendo of 'Frank TV' and Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin Credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage

David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting Sales, began by declaring, "Today's consumers are watching TV without any delineation between broadcast and cable." He and his colleagues then pointed to the ratings success of TNT's "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" and TBS's "House of Payne" and "Frank TV" as further evidence of cable's success in wooing viewers.

'Excellent broadcast replacements'
Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, even pitted images from NBC's "American Gladiators" and "Knight Rider" remake against headshots of TNT stars Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter and asked the audience to identify which looked more like a broadcast network. "We're excellent broadcast replacements," he said. "Our desire is for our brands to not only deliver the best value for your brands, but be the best destination."

Turner is also seeking to add value to ad deals this year with a new ad-targeting system called TVinContext. The system will help align marketers' ads with scenes from Turner shows or movies related to their product or service. Linda Yaccarino, exec VP-general manager of Turner Entertainment ad sales and marketing, used a scene in the movie "Hitch" where Will Smith has an allergic reaction to his meal. That clip could then be followed by a Walgreen's ad for Zyrtec, while viewers' minds are still focused on allergies.

And a scene from "Anchorman" in which Steve Carell declares his love for carpet that was paired with an ad for eHarmony.com made a less-obvious matchup that drew fewer chuckles from the crowd. The first contextual ad placements will be made available to a limited number of clients and will roll out in the fall.

Programming slate
On the programming front, TNT unveiled a very broadcast-like slate of three dramas, beginning with a new legal drama from "NYPD Blue" creator Steven Bochco. Called "Raising the Bar," the show stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar as a fledgling lawyer and Jane Kaczmarek as a hard-edged judge, and could capitalize on the courtroom-drama void left by Fox's just-canceled "Canterbury's Law." Also on the fall slate is "Leverage," a modern-day "Robin Hood" from creator Dean Devlin starring Timothy Hutton.

Perhaps of most interest to the upfront crowd, however, was "Truth In Advertising," starring Eric McCormack ("Will and Grace") and Tom Cavanagh ("Ed") as a high-strung art director and copywriter for a Chicago ad agency. Like AMC's "Mad Men," the show appears to be less about the ad world than it is the eccentricities of its main characters. Mr. Cavanagh's copywriter, for example, began the show's clip reel rattling on about his coffee addiction.

TBS has also made a strong commitment to original programming, and vowed to flip its ratio of 80% acquired content vs. 20% originals to 80% original fare by 2010. For 2008-09, Mr. Koonin focused on a slate of returning series, having successfully launched sitcoms such as "House of Payne," "The Bill Engvall Show" and "Frank TV" last year to an audience that has gotten even more ad-friendly. As TBS' ratings among adults 18 to 34 have increased 44%, the median age has dipped to 33, he said. New seasons of TBS's modestly successful first ventures into original sitcoms, "My Boys" and "10 Items or Less," could stand to gain a larger, younger following when they return this summer.

Most focused of all on original programming is TruTV, the network formerly known as Court TV, which rebranded in January to focus on "actuality" programming. Since the rebranding, the network has seen the highest ratings of its 17-year history, said Mark Juris, exec VP-general manager of TruTV. "We like to say TruTV is what reality TV should be if it wasn't so fake."

With plans to bring 300 hours of its own shows to air this year, TruTV is putting its biggest hopes on two shows that are distinctly Discovery Channel in nature. "Black Gold" is an oil-drilling series from the creator of "Deadliest Catch," a kind of "Dirty Jobs" crossed with "There Will Be Blood." And "Man v. Cartoon" has TruTV delving into the Warner Bros. animation catalog by commissioning scientists to re-create vintage Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner stunts in real life. Sample stunt: launching a boulder from one cliff to another.

Making new hits is especially critical for Turner this year as it vies for a larger share of TV budgets. TNT, despite its new hit "Saving Grace," actually saw a nearly 10% decrease in ad dollars last year to $978 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Before becoming TruTV this year, Court TV also saw a slight dip in spending to $216.2 million in 2007. Only TBS saw a boost from its new schedule of originals, rising to $803.7 million.

Buyers were skeptical about Turner's ambitious broadcast-week positioning going into today's presentation, but seemed to be sold on the new pitch. John Moore, director of ideas and innovations for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, said, "I truly believed they pulled it off in spades. If you don't back that up, it almost becomes worse than better. All the cable networks should be proud of what Turner did today."
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