Koonin's Task: Find TBS an Identity

Looking to fully differentiate and brand both TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. last week placed both services under the auspices of one executive: Steve Koonin.

The rise of Koonin, most recently TNT's executive vice president and general manager, to executive vice president and chief operating officer of both TNT and TBS is the latest in a series of recent management realignments at Turner.

Under Koonin's watch, TNT has branded itself as the destination for drama. In doing so, it knocked Lifetime Television out of the No. 1 spot in the primetime ratings.

In contrast, sitcom-filled TBS has had a fuzzy brand identity.

He knows drama

TBS and TNT need to be positioned and promoted as distinct and different, even though both are general-entertainment services, Koonin said.

Koonin, a veteran of The Coca-Cola Co. who joined Turner in 2000 as general manager of TNT, spearheaded the network's "We Know Drama" positioning and tagline, backed up by original movies and off-network fare such as ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue
and The X-Files.

The game plan for TBS is to narrow the channel's focus, as Koonin did with TNT, he said.

"One of our strategies for TNT was we were going to grow by shrinking," Koonin said. "We grew our ratings and grew our revenue by shrinking our focus. And we're going to do the same thing at TBS.

"We're going to put a fine point on the branding and the positioning. Hopefully, two years from now, we'll be talking about two niche networks."

Koonin said he "has some ideas" for TBS's positioning, but he needs to listen to consumers, as he did in TNT's case.

"Consumers said there was a vacuum for drama, and a big need for a network dedicated to drama."

With off-network sitcoms such as Friends
and Seinfeld, TBS has become a comedy haven.

A few years ago, TBS began casting itself as a "guys" network, but backed away soon after. Now Viacom Inc. is in the midst of repositioning TNN as "Spike TV," a men's network.

"We veered away from that," Mark Lazarus, president of the Turner Entertainment Group, said. "We found it to be somewhat limiting.

"We found it caused some significant dismay in some very important advertiser groups. We were of a size and scale that it didn't make sense for us. We're nearly a 2.0-rated network, and it didn't make sense to cut that in half."

Combine to conquer

Lazarus — who was promoted to his current job in March — said he decided that Turner's two general-entertainment networks needed a single overseer.

"I believe TBS and TNT needed to be managed more as part of a portfolio rather than two individual businesses who were competing to leverage the company's assets, both its high-quality programming and its people," Lazarus said last week. "This is not a consolidation. It's a way for us to work smarter, for us to capitalize on the tools and assets we have."

Dennis Quinn, TBS's executive vice president and general manager since 1999, will remain at Turner in a corporate role.

Turner chairman and CEO Philip Kent asked Quinn to join the operations and strategy unit as an executive vice president.