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Kellner Talks Programming, Sales at CAB Conference

Orlando, Fla. — While Turner Broadcasting System Inc. CEO Jamie Kellner offered attendees of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's Local Cable Sales Management Conference a view from the top, other sessions explored sales opportunities from the bottom up.

In his first cable-industry appearance since becoming Turner CEO, Kellner on May 19 previewed some of his programming and sales plans at the CAB Local meeting here. By the time he spoke, the conference's attendance had hit 706 — topping the most optimistic CAB pre-show projections.

Kellner said one Turner strategy would be to "use the WB [Network] to launch our new brands on cable," and vice versa. "We need to find ways for the audience to find [new programs]," he explained. "It's a natural extension. You're going to see us try to do it."

The WB already has entered into discussions with Turner Network Television about sharing such WB primetime fare as Gilmore Girls, Charmed
and Felicity, according to sources and published reports.

Kellner described himself as a programmer and added, "I don't consider myself a cable guy. I don't consider myself a broadcast guy." That, despite his having helped start the WB and the Fox broadcast networks in 1995 and 1986 respectively. (He also recalled having run the numbers to see if it made sense to start Fox as a cable network.)

Although he hinted that some within AOL Time Warner were not enthusiastic about the sharing prospect, Kellner said the company really doesn't have a choice. If it does not do this, he said, "Others will do it, and we'll be left behind."

Kellner also said overhauls of Cable News Network and Headline News are in the works but insisted any changes would not damage their journalistic integrity.

Headline News will be revamped from top to bottom, starting in July, he said. For example, newscasts will be done live. Under the current pre-taped setup, the anchors are "completely detached" from the network's reporters and the stories they cover.

Asked if affiliates would continue to get their five-minute Headline News local windows at the half-hour, he said they would "get something equal — I don't know if it will be three minutes here, two there."

"I know the kids' business isn't great," Kellner said, but added that he was bullish on Cartoon Network, especially since they are "going to lose a big competitor in the very near future." "Fox is dropping to [kids aged] 2 to 4 after Christmas," he explained.

Though a Fox Family Worldwide Inc. spokesman countered that Kellner was "overstating what's happening." Fox Kids will be moving its weekday kids' block an hour sooner, into early afternoon where it made sense to skew younger. "Fox Kids is not getting out of the kids' business," the spokesman said, because it will continue programming Saturday mornings for the broader kids' audience.

Kellner also expressed optimism about the threatened actors' union strike and the current ad-sales slump. He said he had accurately forecast that the writers would avoid a strike; he then predicted the actors also would keep working.

Regarding lagging ad sales, he said, "It always comes back."

LOOKING FOR TIE-INS

Kellner said that Turner has been targeting under-developed and non-traditional ad categories on affiliates' behalf, for example with co-branded sales promotion tie-in opportunities. "We're going to do more of this, especially in difficult times like this."

Turner Network Sales senior vice president of affiliate ad sales Jerry Ware embellished on that in a separate session. He said TNS has been pitching such prospects in eight key markets on quarterly promo tie-ins to TNT's "Saturday Night New Classics" and "TNT Originals."

These unidentified marketers — which typically allocate 70 percent of their total budgets on trade and consumer promotions and barely 30 percent in traditional media — have spent $1.6 million from January into this month, Ware estimated. The markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, were chosen for their broad influence, with most reaching 1 million-plus subscribers.

Other CAB Local speakers from systems and MSOs offered success stories in luring new accounts, or boosting existing clients' cable budgets.

General sales manager Chuck Herndon at Comcast Corp.'s Augusta, Ga., system said he persuaded an offbeat client, Poteet Funeral Homes, to up its system budget from $2,000 a month to $5,000 a month. Charter Media's MidAtlantic area general manager Rob Fouss said he convinced a Toyota dealer to hike cable spending from $15,000 to $140,000 yearly.

National Cable Communications vice president of business development Marc Bodner said appliances and health care are two under-developed categories.

The cable-sales executives' ears really perked up when Appliance Direct president Mark Salmon said Wal-Mart is now planning to expand into appliances in 3,000 of its stores in the next 12 to 18 months. The retailer sees an opening due to the recent exit of Circuit City from that business, where it had ranked second to Sears.

"All we [retailers] think about is moving metal," Salmon observed, adding that unsold inventory on the floor "kills us."

Orlando Regional Health Care brand marketing director Ernie Kelly said his company was targeting women since they influence most medical decisions. In his opinion, cable was the best way to reach them. He also felt that cable was ideal for nurse-recruitment advertising, as Florida alone is short 10,000 nurses.

At two other panels, attendees listened as three ad agencies offered operators a mix of buying-related bouquets and brickbats, and three affiliates did the same regarding network-affiliate relations.

MSOS: KEEP US POSTED

Adelphia Communications Corp. marketing and promotions director Scott Pesner, Comcast marketing and sales promotions director Kellie Grutko and Time Warner Cable (Orlando) account executive Ira Heller said network affiliate-relations staffers need to learn more about operators' local needs and keep operators apprised of programming changes.

"Think outside the box" on promo tie-ins and develop ways to break tough categories, Pesner advised.

Grutko advised limiting the number of promos, suggesting that networks offer "three core promotions and do them well" per year.

There seemed to be no conference consensus on whether networks should continue supplying mailed materials or shift to affiliate Web sites.

"Our regional marketing managers want less printed materials," said Pesner. "They can download program grids [from the Web] — if they're there."

Heller complained that some networks' program info on the Web is a month old. He also criticized programmers that can't supply a program grid two to three months out. One attendee said his network could not do so for competitive reasons, but Pesner and Heller shot down a proposal to sign confidentiality agreements.

Strategic America media account manager Carol Van DerHart suggested operators send e-mails to update programming and new insertable networks.