A new look at TBS

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   May 14, 2004 at 7:37 PM

LOS ANGELES, May 14 (UPI) -- Cable channel TBS is going through something of a makeover, getting ready to launch a campaign on June 4 to re-brand itself as the destination for comedy-loving, well educated and comparatively affluent young adults.

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., is giving TBS a new logo and a new image ID line -- "tbs very funny" -- as part of a campaign to identify it as the authority on TV comedy.

The programming lineup will feature the syndicated version of the HBO hit "Sex and the City," as well as "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Home Improvement." Later in the summer, TBS will add "Everybody Loves" Raymond" and "Yes, Dear" to its prime time schedule.

TBS will also offer unscripted comedies this summer.

"The Bachelor" creator Mike Fleiss will produce "Gilligan's Island," featuring contestants trying to get off a desert island. "For Love or Money" creator Bruce Nash chips in with "Outback Jack," in which 12 pampered city women competing for the love of an Australian adventurer are shocked to learn they have to slug it out in the rugged terrain of the Australian Outback. And "Out-Foxxed," produced by Jamie Foxx, features family members trying to one-up one another with hidden-camera pranks.

Viewers may notice a heavy promotional campaign, including extensive ads on TBS and other Time-Warner properties.

Steven Koonin, executive vice president and chief operating officer of TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television, brought extensive experience in marketing and promotion with him when he took the job in 2000. During a 14-year career with the Coca-Cola Company, Koonin rose vice president of consumer marketing, responsible for the positioning and development of brand, among other things, for beverages marketed in the United States.

Prior to developing the new branding strategy for TBS, Koonin oversaw a similar campaign to position TNT as a leading destination for TV drama. TNT has become a leader in the field of made-for-TV movies, with such original productions as "Door to Door," which won six Emmy Awards in 2003.

Traditionally, TV networks have not branded themselves. In an interview with United Press International, Koonin said cable TV has pretty much had to develop branding, as a way of standing out in the marketplace.

"Cable has done a brilliant job at branding," he said. "Lifetime is for women. MTV is about the rebellion and spirit of music. TNT is the leading network for drama."

Koonin said the reason why cable has to brand, while TV networks do not, is that broadcast networks develop shows that viewers come to. Cable networks, he said, create environments.

"It's not narrowcasting vs. broadcasting," he said. "It's more about definition vs. ambiguity. Broadcasters try to cover all the bases. They're not focused."

Koonin speculated that the distinction might be one of the reasons why broadcast networks have been losing audience to cable.

"Their shows, some of them, are top of mind," he said. "But not the networks."

Viewing patterns have changed so radically that cable now has more viewers than broadcast, Koonin said. However, conventional wisdom still holds that broadcast networks deliver the largest possible audience for advertisers.

In any case, Koonin said cable has yet to erase the broadcast networks' dominance in collecting revenues from advertisers.

"Over 75 percent of ad revenue goes to broadcast, " he said. "The ad community is just starting to catch on the viewer community."

As networks prepare to announce their 2004-05 prime time schedules next week, industry analysts are wondering whether they will be able to command the same kinds of ad rate increases they conventionally have enjoyed. Increases of 15 percent have not been uncommon.

Without mentioning a specific dollar amount, Koonin acknowledged that re-branding TBS is an expensive proposition.

"We're literally changing everything on the network, the look and the lineup," he said. "We're spending a significant amount of money changing it, telling people we did this and programming to it, but we expect to have a fabulous return."

The on-air promos depict a call center where operators are busy fielding telephone inquiries from people at various workplaces, describing something a co-worker has done and asking whether it is funny. The operators ask questions while inputting the data on computers, and come back with decisions on what is funny and what is not.

Koonin said the ads promote the idea that TBS is "the epicenter of funny."

Actual viewers will be able to call an actual 800 number and visit a Web site, where they will also be able to post items for the TBS computer to make a ruling.

Koonin said that regular consumers of virtually any medium will probably notice the branding campaign when it is launched.

"Obviously (it will run) on all the Turner networks, and we will be running a significant amount on other networks," he said.

The campaign will also feature extensive billboards and an online component through AOL.

"It will be a full-fledged media push," said Koonin.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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