Turner CEO John Martin: ‘Our commitment to Atlanta is unwavering’

John Martin at the Atlanta Press Club Newsmaker luncheon April 13, 2017. Photo credit; Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

This was originally posted Thursday, April 13, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Turner CEO John Martin assured an Atlanta Press Club luncheon packed with Atlanta-based Turner employees that Turner plans to keep growing its presence in the city.

“Our commitment to Atlanta is unwavering,” Martin said. “We are net hiring in Atlanta now.”

Martin himself spends a week out of the month in town and even has an apartment here. Turner has about 6,000 employees in Atlanta or half of its entire operation. (Turner is a subsidiary of Time Warner, where Martin got his start in 1993.)

He noted that Turner’s entire sports operation is here. The company just built a 10,000-square-foot studio for its eSports ELeague operation with IMG. Adult Swim’s top brass remains here. (Network bigwigs for TNT, TBS, TCM, Cartoon, CNN, HLN and TruTV are now in Los Angeles or New York.)

Martin, who began running Turner in early 2014, said Atlanta is where much of the technology guts of Turner’s operations are based and with the pending AT&T merger, that will continue to grow. “It’s the biggest area of opportunity,” he said. “For undergraduate students with a technology background here, we want to be an employer of choice.”

He also noted that the Techwood campus has been modernized and Turner is in talks to renovate CNN Center.

“I’m a big fan of CNN Center,” he said, then added, “I love Taco Bell there. I’d be good if I could run to the border three times a week.”

READ MORE: CNN prez Jeff Zucker spoke to me and Matt Kempner last fall. 

“We need to pivot and change the company from the inside out,” he said. “As TV is getting more fragmented and barriers to entry are falling through the floor, we have to make sure our brands are top of mind.”

He made a not-so-subtle diss of Netflix without being completely direct about it. While noting that in the past, networks needed to be content and distribution kings, there is now a third leg to the stool. “You need to have a greater consumer experience,” he said. “Netflix gives you a great consumer experience. You can have inferior content and a great business.” (Note he didn’t say Netflix had inferior content but the juxtaposition is clear.)

Martin doesn’t just want consumers of Turner brands. He wants fans. There are true fans of Adult Swim and TCM, for instance. TNT and TBS, broader channels, don’t quite have that type of loyal following. Martin is jealous of Time Warner-owned HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones” for its enthusiastic fan following. He said a friend told him he shelled out $150 just to hear an entire concert of “Game of Thrones” music with a trailer at the end and had no regrets.

“We have to get better in how to monetize our brands and franchises in a 360-degree way,” Martin said. “Traditionally, you get advertising dollars on reach or whatever Nielsen tells you. It’s a fundamental change in the business. I think more than ever, we’ll be moving more to fandom.”

Martin noted his college-aged daughter mostly watches on Netflix on her laptop. When he offered to get her a TV for her dorm room, she scoffed. “A TV?” she said. “That’s a s****y gift!” His 10 year old watches YouTube videos for gaming on his iPad.

“That’s content to them,” he said. “We’re now competing with gaming content and user-generated content. This is completely unappealing to me but wildly appealing to younger generations. That’s what we have to prepare for in terms of our reality going forward.”

DISCLOSURE: I am a board member of the Atlanta Press Club. 

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