TBI interviews Turner EMEA president Giorgio Stock on the same day his former employer, The Walt Disney Company, announces its US$54.2 billion takeover of 21st Century Fox’s key entertainment assets.
Turner’s parent, Time Warner, is itself involved in what could become one of the largest corporate takeover deals in history, with telecommunications giant AT&T headed to court later this year to push through a deal worth a total of nearly US$110 billion.
In the same week in December, Stock has announced Turner will be moving its London base to an all-singing, all-dancing office near Old Street in East London in 2019. At the current digs, Turner House near Soho in the centre of the city, he is summarising the recent spate of high level M&A action.
“It’s a significant shift that we’re seeing across the industry,” he says. “There’s consolidation and an attempt to go for scale. With AT&T, we offered the first sign that was the direction of where we were going and a number of others have followed that path. Disney-Fox will not be the last one.”
For Turner, traditionally known as the channels business arm of Time Warner, the direction is also changing. “We dropped the Turner Broadcasting name, which might sound like a small thing, but it is actually a quite meaningful statement,” he says.
Turner, owner of channel brands such as Cartoon Network, TNT and TBS, is now a company with a “fan-centric approach”, says Stock. In part, this means offering core linear channels, many of which are set for strong results from 2017 (“We’ve had our best year ever at Turner by a mile, and the core business is still very much a driving force of that,” says Stock).
However, being ‘fan-centric’ also means direct-to-consumer offers such as the Boomerang SVOD app, US movie service FilmStruck (recently announced for a UK launch), video game platform Gloud and the kids-focused Toonix in Scandinavia.
The latter is a sign of how Time Warner’s subsidiaries are working better together, having launched as a joint venture with on-demand service HBO Nordic. “It’s a bespoke area on the app with a tremendous amount of Turner and Warner content, and local third party content such as Pippi Longstocking,” says Stock.
This all comes back to IP ownership. Turner believes that by controlling rights, it can negotiate better deals with pay TV platform affiliates, invest more heavily to create stronger brands that attract licensing and merchandising business and other revenues streams, or go direct to market with product.
Stock says Turner’s investment in content and marketing is at an all-time high, which is driving returns that have offset ratings and ad market dollars erosion in some territories. This is especially true of the kids space, whose young audience is most likely to bypass linear. Luckily, that same audience is also the most likely to drive L&M revenues.
In the general entertainment arena, Turner has traditionally been strong in Germany, where original shows such as 4 Blocks, which sold to Amazon for the international window, are gaining traction. The company has also launched a Warner Bros. branded channel in France, which Stock describes as “was a coming of age moment” for the sister companies.
“What’s exciting about today compared with five years ago is our audiences are everywhere, and it’s exciting to be there with them,” he says. “It would be stupid to assume linear will be gone in a year or two, but we are also building our brands.”
“What doesn’t excite me is that the trading terms are still not resolved,” he continues, pointing to the reality that assessing numbers of viewers, fans, consumers or anyone else interacting with content is still far from a science.
“The positive is we can see TV is one of several pillars we’re already successfully leveraging,” says Stock. “We have more than two billion YouTube views a year and a billion minutes a month. These are real quality touch points that I can measure and leverage for brand building purposes, but it is reductive to see these only as marketing tools.
“The value and monetisation that I am currently extracting from these points is not yet in line with what it should be – some people within this equation are making more revenue out of this than me.”
He is frustrated with the regulation surrounding some of the influential tech giants, which are not classed as broadcasters and therefore not subject to the same scrutiny, but believes watchdogs will ultimately restore parity. “If I made some of the mistakes others have made, we don’t just lose customers, but Ofcom calls and says we’re going to lose our licence. I think it will change, but maybe not overnight.”
However, Stock, who has been with Turner since 2013, believes his company, and the wider industry, is moving towards a better place. “It’s been a long, hard year – all the winds we expected to blow in other directions blew those ways, economies haven’t been exploding and some countries have decided to make their lives more difficult, but we stayed out course and audiences, advertisers and platforms have taken note,” he says.
“The reason I want us to make so much progress is to make as much money as we can so we can invest in content. When you have better profits you can invest more and your case for that investment is stronger too.”