The president of media giant Turner says content is still king, but television needs to evolve

The president of media giant Turner says content is still king, but television needs to evolve

  • Turner president David Levy said television needs to be rethought as people increasingly view shows on all kinds of devices.
  • The AT&T-Time Warner deal will help Turner better serve viewers with better ads, he said.
  • Despite the growth of streaming rivals, Levy said Turner is still well positioned to compete with its own content.

The TV industry is changing dramatically, with people watching shows on all kinds of devices.

David Levy, president of media giant Turner, said he’s confident he knows what the company’s founder and his longtime boss, Ted Turner, would say about the state of the business.

“Ted was a visionary,” Levy said Tuesday at Business Insider’s IGNITION conference in New York during a conversation with Geoff Ramsey, chairman and cofounder of eMarketer. “He launched Cartoon Network. Everyone advised him not to launch a 24-hour news channel. He understood content was king.”

“He would be very bullish on the TV industry,” he added. “He would say, television is everything. We don’t think about it as this thing on the wall. We think about it as generating fans, where fans are.”

Part of the industry’s response to the rise of Google and Facebook has been to get bigger. Levy discussed the benefits of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, now WarnerMedia, which Turner belongs to. Levy said he’s confident the merger will work because it serves both sides.

“Turner needed data,” he said. “We needed to understand the consumer much better than we did. Having that understanding of first-party data would allow us to have better advertising products, understand consumers better. Being able to download B/R Live or having the CNN logo on your phone is extremely valuable. AT&T needed quality premium programming. There was a need for both, so I think it’s a good marriage.”

To adapt, Turner is developing more of a consumer-oriented mindset. The concept of “TV Everywhere” in its early form “was a little clunky. That catapulted Netflix into where it is today,” Levy said.

Turner has focused on making content available wherever people want to see it. One recent experiment showed the effort is still a work in progress, when there were technical snafus that made it hard for people to watch Bleacher Report’s Tiger vs. Phil match.

“We had a little technical difficulty there,” Levy acknowledged.

“You made it free, right?” said Ramsey.

“Thank you for reminding me,” said Levy.

The rise of Amazon, Netflix, and other digital-streaming companies funding original content means a plethora of premium-content choices for viewers. Despite that, Levy said the competition is good, but Turner has plenty of its own premium programming.

“We have great brands with our own IP,” he said. “Every SVOD product would love to have ‘Rick and Morty.’ We just had 33 Emmy nominations for our content.”

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