Turner exec on a mission to prove cable is as good a buy as broadcast

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In between juggling an arsenal of cable brands, David Levy is eyeing the competition-FOX, ABC, CBS and NBC.

"I believe TBS and TNT are true substitutes for broadcast," said Mr. Levy, 42, who's both president-entertainment sales and marketing for Turner Broadcasting, which includes TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies and Cartoon Network, and president, Turner Sports, which owns and broadcasts the Atlanta Braves. His challenge in the next few months as the upfront looms, as it is every year, is to convince planners and buyers that his cable networks are just as good as vehicles for innovative sponsorships and placement deals as the broadcast networks.

His argument? "If you can replace a broadcast network and substitute in a TBS or TNT, lose no reach and in many cases extend your reach, maintain your frequency, save some money, and-even better-reinvest that money in a promotion or sponsorship, why wouldn't you do that?" He also acknowledged the "definite gap between the number of eyeballs and the GRPs that cable provides in all demos," but said Turner has been working hard to close that gap.

The other upfront he's keeping an eye on is the kids market, especially challenging this year with marketers wary of appearing to sell to kids. "It's a crazy marketplace right now in the animation or kids business. But while it's crazy, everyone's doing what they can to be sensitive to the issues with government and with our advertisers and clients," Mr. Levy said. Turner is launching a national healthy lifestyle initiative called "Get Animated," which emphasizes nutrition, exercise and education. He's rather bullish on Turner's position. "There is no broadcast versus cable in the kids business. ... Between Nick and us, we own most of the GRPs, especially when you couple in the Kids WB, which we represent."

Mr. Levy has spent the last 19 years-nearly all of his working life-at Turner. He's sold the entertainment networks, the sports networks, headed up Latin American sales, and presided over Tuner Broadcasting System International-and he likes to put cable's growth into context of his tenure there. "I remember coming into the office as a new account executive and seeing a poster that said `I was in cable before cable was cool,"' he said. "It was Ted's quote and there was a picture of him with a cowboy hat and boots on. Cable was just starting out." Today he's quick to point out TNT and TBS stations beat both WB and UPN in reach.

"He's an idea guy," said Charlie Rutman, president of Aegis Group's Carat USA. Mr. Rutman and Mr. Levy go back to 1987, when they collaborated on a Hyundai campaign that ran on one of Mr. Levy's Turner networks. The Korean automaker had just entered the U.S. market and no one knew how to pronounce its name. Their solution: rename the network's "movies on Monday" line-up to "movies on Hyundai." "He's anxious to bring ideas, but equally importantly, he's eager to listen to ideas," Mr. Rutman adds.

In 2001, TNT tied up its identity with a "We Know Drama" tagline and, last year, TBS attempted the same with its "Very Funny" tagline. "If there's a niche out there that's being missed, it's comedy," Mr. Levy said of TBS' approach. "Our nearest competitor in the broadcast nets airs four or five hours."

Turner's theme for this year's upfront? Beyond the thirty. "There will be video-on-demand, broadband, wireless and product placement opportunities," Mr. Levy promised, noting Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block is doing well on VOD, its kids programming has a significant broadband component, and CNN is popular in wireless formats. "People know those brands and now with this melting pot and new emerging digital opportunities, ...what's going to win? The brand."

Just Asking

What movie do you never miss? My favorite movie-and I watch it at minimum twice a year-is "The Godfather." There are a lot of good business practices in that movie if you watch closely. My favorite line is, "Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer."

What's your favorite cartoon character? Johnny Bravo. He's an older character, but he was a key component when Cartoon started making original product. He's a guy that gets himself in a lot of trouble but somehow manages to come out okay.

You're president of Turner Sports. Does that mean you're a Braves fan? I'm a big fan of Syracuse football and basketball, it's my alma mater.

Do you split time between Atlanta and New York? I live in Purchase, New York, but spend six to eight days a month in Atlanta.

What keeps you busy when you're not logging frequent flier miles between the towns? My family enjoys skiing and golf. We just came back from a family skiing vacation in Colorado. And the kids (Brett, 12, and Jake, 8) play baseball and basketball.

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