Former NBA stars and a wedding chapel: Inside Turner’s big CES game plan

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The wedding chapel inside the Aria hotel and casino in Las Vegas will play host to marriages of a different sort this week: between Turner and the advertisers it hopes to tie the knot with this year.

For the past three years, Turner — the media giant that owns TV networks such as CNN, TBS and Cartoon Network, as well as digital publishers such as Bleacher Report and Super Deluxe — has had a big presence at CES, the annual consumer electronics trade show. This year will be no different and in some ways will be an even bigger effort, as Turner sends personnel across its ad sales, entertainment, sports and digital divisions to Las Vegas.

Turner’s CES game plan will focus on two key areas: ad sales and Turner Sports. For the former, the Aria’s wedding chapel is the epicenter, as Turner has decked out the venue to play host to current and future advertising clients. This year, Turner expects to host more than 25 meetings of varying sizes — from larger meetings with as many as 10 to 15 people across all of the major ad holding companies to more intimate gatherings with a handful of marketing executives. And this number does not include the multitude of one-on-one meetings that naturally occur during CES over the course of the week.

“It’s one of the biggest conferences in our industry, and it kicks off the year,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner Ad Sales. “A majority of our clients, whether it’s the agency side or the marketer side, are at this event. So it gives us a three- to four-day window to have these conversations, either as a continuation of the conversations we’re already having with clients or to begin new conversations for 2018.”

Turner easily qualifies as one of the biggest ringleaders of the “other CES” — the one most media, marketing and technology executives attend that’s centered alongside panels, meeting rooms and casino tables on the Strip, with little to no association with the gadgetry on display at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In previous years, Turner has used CES for major media and advertising product launches. For instance, two years ago, CES was when Turner unveiled its Turner Ignite division, which steers the company’s advanced TV and digital advertising efforts. Last year, the company announced that Turner Sports would be integrated into Turner Ignite.

This year, no new ad product launches are expected; instead, Turner is focusing on the growth in its existing products, as well as continuing to steer advertisers toward OpenAP, a targeting platform formed as a joint venture between Turner, Fox and Viacom.

One of the biggest knocks against CES — and any industrywide gathering, really — is that all it ends up being is a series of meetings and parties, with little to no actual deals that media sellers can point to.

Speciale sees it differently, acknowledging that a company like Turner has no trouble getting meetings outside of CES, but the “efficiency” with which Turner can use a gathering such as CES to host advertisers and steer conversations is valuable. Plus, CES played a vital role for the “hundreds” of audience-based deals Turner has done over the past several years. “The audience commitments that we got over the past two years really started at CES,” said Speciale.

Ad buyers, too, said they’re looking forward to Turner’s program at CES.

“For media buyers, Turner is one of the bigger presences at CES,” said Charlie Fiordalis, regional managing partner at MediaCom, adding that he’s meeting with Turner to focus on the company’s advanced TV capabilities. “It’s more discussion than deals, but I can pack in five meetings with clients in a day and then have a discussion with them and make a decision. What can take a month can happen in a day at CES.”

Turner’s efforts at CES won’t be restricted to its ad sales business, as Turner Sports plans to have a bigger presence in Las Vegas this year, too.

Turner Sports’ plans include a sponsorship of the first CES Sports Zone, a dedicated area inside Hall D at The Venetian that will showcase new products focused on athlete performance, improvements to arenas and more. Turner will also host a two-day Sports Business Innovation conference, which will feature speakers such as Turner President David Levy, Twitter COO Anthony Noto, businessman Maverick Carter and former NBA All-Stars Steve Nash, Chris Webber and Baron Davis.

One big focus area for Turner will be its upcoming streaming video service tied to the UEFA Champions League European soccer tournament, which the company bought U.S. broadcast rights to last year. Turner plans to launch a streaming service that will be available across platforms, including a home on Bleacher Report’s site and apps.

“As we work on building an over-the-top product, [CES] is the perfect showcase to talk about why we’re doing it and how we’re going to do it,” said Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports. “It’s a megaphone that helps us shape the story and message in a correct way.”

Turner Sports content will be produced out of CES, too. Two years ago, Turner Sports used CES to unveil ELeague, its own esports league. This year, it will host a live ELeague broadcast on Jan. 10 featuring gameplay between Shaquille O’Neal and professional wrestler Natalie Eva Marie.

On Jan. 11, Turner Sports will once again broadcast live editions of its “Inside the NBA” show featuring host Ernie Johnson and analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and O’Neal, providing pregame, halftime and postgame commentary for that night’s NBA games on TNT.

Once again, this all points to the sizable investment that Turner is making at CES.

“It’s not cheap; it does cost money,” Daniels said. “We see the value in the way we can talk to the collective industry and how we can connect that back to sales and true dollars. Ten years ago, maybe it would not have made sense to take this chance [on CES], but with how involved media has become as part of CES, it does now.”

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