Turner Launching Lab to Reinvigorate Advertising

With viewers having more ability to avoid commercials, Turner Broadcasting is launching an Ad Lab that will invent and test ways to improve the consumer experience.

The Ad Lab will be staffed and sponsored by Turner, but the programmer is inviting trade organizations, research companies and technology companies from around the industry to join its advisory board. The board will draw up a charter and select which projects it will examine and oversee those projects.

The board will be named later this month, Turner said.

Turner has been making changes in its approach to advertising. Its networks, including truTV, TNT and TBS, plan to cut the amount of commercial time they carry. At the same time, its advertising sales group is looking to sell spots to clients based on not just how many people are watching but which audiences actually buy their products, making the commercials more relevant and less intrusive.

Rebuilding the reputation of TV advertising is important to the industry.

“We believe one of the reasons people go to Netflix is the lack of advertising, and if we’re going to fix the ecosystem we all should potentially do it. We’re going to be very transparent about what we learn and about sharing results,” said Howard Shimmel, chief research office for Turner.

“If we’re successful, we’ll find something that works both for consumers and for advertisers. Our hope is we’ll find solutions that work for both,” Shimmel said.

“Video advertising needs to evolve into a better experience, one that benefits all key parties – consumers, publishers and advertisers,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner ad sales. “Turner Ad Lab will aggressively re-imagine new advertising formats and real estate to create a better viewing experience. Having leading industry partners on board to collaborate with us around this effort is key to its success.”

The Ad Lab will operate out of Turner Research and work with parent company Time Warner’s Media Lab. Other research and tech members will be asked to contribute historical data and resources that can be used in testing ad research.

Its first areas of focus will include commercial pod structures and creative executions.

While the board will determine the Ad Lab's charter, one project Shimmel suggests would be worthwhile is a definitive study of ad loads and commercial load and lengths.

The Ad Lab might also look at branded content and native advertising. “We think [branded content] could work well for consumers and for advertisers, but that’s our perspective and we’ve already done a little bit of research on this,” Shimmel said. “That’s the kind of thing consumers are very willing to embrace. They think of it as different from the traditional 30.”

Shimmel said the Ad Lab won’t just look at TV. It will work across platforms. “Obviously with everything going on with ad blockers, we need to think about consumers and digital videos,” he said.

Turner plans to rotate the Ad Lab's board annually to ensure a flow of new ideas and technology.

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.