CES 2017: Shaq, Turner Seek Growth With Digital Platforms

Complete Coverage: CES 2017

Las Vegas -- Turner Broadcasting and one of its biggest talents see digital as a source of growth in the future.

Speaking at a panel at CES in Las Vegas Friday, Turner President David Levy and basketball star turned Inside the NBA analyst Shaquille O’Neal, talked about technology’s impact on the media business and consumers lives.

At a time when the number of traditional pay-TV subscribers is shrinking, Levy said Turner was investing in digital companies like Refinery 29 and Bleacher Report to reach millennial women and men, respectively.

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Levy said he expected subscriber growth to level out, but more than cord cutters and cord shavers, Levy said he was concerned about cord-nevers, young consumers who are getting their content without having a cable, satellite or telco subscription. Those people still want the kind of quality video content Turner’s business is built on, so we have to be on different platforms.”

 While best known for his Hall of Fame basketball career, O’Neal was also an early investor in Google (though he said he’d only discovered Snapchat a few weeks ago). Like Turner he is an investor in eLeague video gaming competitions.

O’Neal said his son wanted to go to an eSports event and his initial response was “what the hell is that.”

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The event was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “I haven’t seen that place rocking since me and Kobe won a lot of championships there,” he said.

He could see it was something that was catching on and when he had the opportunity to invest he did, knowing that Turner was investing in building its own eLeague as well. “I’ve been to 6-7 events. It’s energetic. It’s here to stay,” said O'Neal.

Levy agreed, saying that while Turner has made some changes in programming—staging shorter tournaments for example—it is attracting millions of new young viewers to TBS. “It’s growing like a week. It’s the next big thing,” he said.

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O’Neal said he toured CES and was impressed by a device that folded clothes after they were washed. “I told them I want three of those.” He wasn’t too interested in drones, though, having already lost a $1,500 drone when it got caught by the wind.

As for basketball, Levy credited the NBA with letting turner put basketball content on a variety of new platforms around the world.  One of those is virtual reality. Levy said that at CES, an Intel executive said that the VR basketball experience could include not just sitting in a front row seat, but catching a t-shirt from a t-shirt cannon and having it delivered overnight.

O’Neal said he thought VR provided the NBA with “a different way to connect with the fans,” and that it makes you feel like you’re part of the game. “That’s a great experience.”

Levy noted that TV ratings are up so far this season. “Ratings have been up and will continue to go up,” O’Neal added.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.