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Friday, October 7, 2022

Warner Bros. Discovery Could Be Revamping TNT and TBS Programming – Business Insider

Warner Bros. Discovery is eyeing a revamp of its biggest entertainment cable channels as it seeks to use their sports franchises to drive more viewership, according to two people familiar with the company’s thinking.
Rumors have been circling cableland that Turner Sports might take over TNT, which has long hosted the NBA franchise and also airs the NHL; or TBS, which televises MLB regular season games. Both channels air NCAA basketball.
A source familiar with WBD brainstorming sessions said management wouldn’t go that far but rather is considering how to use sports viewership to drive more interest in second-run programming, which could come from Warner and HBO libraries and could include dramas such as “Hacks,” “The Sopranos,” “The Flight Attendant,” and “Succession,” or non-scripted fare from Discovery’s library. 
Kathleen Finch, chairman and chief content officer, US Networks Group at WBD, said in a statement, “We are working on a refreshed content roadmap for TBS and TNT, designed to maximize the sizable audiences both networks attract. We have numerous new projects in early development in both scripted and unscripted as well as covering the world of sports, and we look forward to sharing specifics as soon final titles are decided upon.”
WBD CEO David Zaslav is trying to find at least $3 billion in synergies across the newly merged company while still driving big audiences to expensive sports content to keep advertisers and distributors happy. The company, which pays $1.2 billion a year to air the NBA, will be likely be looking to renew its agreement before 2024, and fresher programming on TNT and TBS could underscore the firm’s commitment to broadening its appeal in cable. 
Zaslav especially wants to preserve the cable bundle while boosting HBO Max. “Our goal is to compete with the leading streaming services, not to win the spending war,” Zaslav said on the firm’s fourth-quarter earnings call in February. 
TBS currently airs repeats of Warner sitcoms including “Friends,” “Two Broke Girls,” and “The Big Bang Theory,” while TNT airs dramas such as “Cold Case” and “Supernatural.”
HBO dramas have been syndicated to cable before. Back in 2005, “The Sopranos” went to cable channel A&E, while TBS acquired HBO’s “Sex and the City.”
WBD is in the midst of a wide-ranging review aimed at achieving the $3 billion in cost savings promised from the WarnerMedia and Discovery union. Wells Fargo’s Steven Cahall in May posited that the company could cut as much as $4 billion by 2024. 
WBD in April halted original content development for TBS and TNT, with the channels’ original programming SVP Adrienne O’Riain exiting in June along with Corie Henson, EVP and the group’s head of unscripted.
Along with the pivot away from original content development, WBD is axing much of the animated and family fare streamed at HBO Max while CNN is in the midst of programming changes that began with canceling its media analysis show, “Reliable Sources.” 
The discussions about TNT and TBS are part of a broader reshuffling of assets as viewers cut the cord and shift their time to streaming services from traditional linear channels. In July, streaming viewing passed cable for the first time, according to Nielsen. However, cable operators still pay hefty fees to big media companies that are keen to preserve those contracts and even negotiate for increases as the costs for sports — which still bring large audiences to broadcast and cable TV — keep rising. 
Changes at WBD and Turner Sports come as Hollywood’s interloping tech giants are showing an increasing appetite for sports rights. Apple has snapped up new deals with MLS and MLB, while Amazon is now the exclusive home to NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.” Netflix bid for Formula 1 rights, which went to ESPN. 
Insider Intelligence forecast that US pay-TV homes would drop to 65.1 million by 2023, less than half of all US households; 25.5 million households shed their pay-TV bills between 2016 and 2021. 
One former Turner executive wondered if more dramatic moves could follow — like smaller sibling truTV network becoming an exclusive branded home for NBA programming, suggesting that could be a discussion point for future renewal discussions.
“Samantha Bee is gone, and all of the original programming. It’s reverting back to the old model of 20 years ago and becoming a network that is all reruns,” this person said. “At some point [WBD execs] have to make a decision with all the cable networks: Can they sustain all of them or do they consolidate?” 
The pattern of shifting viewing from broadcast and cable shows toward streaming services is gaining steam. At NBCUniversal, long-running soap opera “Days of Our Lives” will move to streamer Peacock, with NBC programming a block of live news in its place, Vulture first reported. NBC is also discussing giving over its 10 p.m. hour to its affiliates, according to The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, Disney moved its hit reality show “Dancing with the Stars” from ABC to streamer Disney+, where it will premiere September 19 — with TikTok megastar Charli D’Amelio and mom Heidi in the competition.
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