Earlier in his career, Phil Kent, now the Chairman & CEO, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS, Inc.), quit his job and took a trip around the world. Asked where he got the courage to do so, Kent says he didn't think he was being courageous. Not being happy in your job makes this type of decision easier, he explains. It also helped that he'd been careful with money. There are things you can do to make a courageous decision easier, he adds.
While Kent is referring to his career, the thread applies to his current role: leading a multi-billion dollar news and entertainment company during a time of incredible technological change. In October, Kent spoke to a group MBA students at Emory University's Goizueta Business School as part of the MBA Career Management Center's Career Connection Day. Kent emphasized the importance of evolving in one's career-and in business.
This is Kent's second stint at TBS, Inc. He worked there from 1993 to 2001, leaving after the merger with AOL-Time Warner. He was coaxed back to run the company in 2003, and as CEO, Kent extrapolates the importance of evolving in one's career to the corporate level. A lot has changed since Ted Turner founded CNN, cable's first dedicated 24-hour news channel, in 1980. Technology and the omnipresent Internet have affected the news business in ways that even a visionary like Ted Turner could never have imagined. Earlier this year, for example, CNN broadcast the U.S. Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama on several of its cable channels, but it also served more than 26 million live video streams of the event to viewers via CNN.com-the single largest online event in Internet history.
Kent, who defines himself as a professional hired manager, learned a tremendous amount from working with two famous bosses - Ted Turner and Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency. He saw firsthand how far passion and strong beliefs will take you (at the time he launched CNN, Ted Turner was one of a handful of people who thought a 24-hour news channel was a good idea), but Kent also saw their limits and the consequences of having vision trump practicality. He says, reiterating an earlier point. You have to evolve.
An example of Kent's own evolution meant quitting his job with Ovitz and time spent traveling around the world before joining TBS, Inc. in the early 1990s. Following the merger of AOL and Time Warner in 2001, Kent left TBS, Inc., but was lured back in 2003 to be its Chairman & CEO. These days, when he makes tough decisions, he's not afraid of being shown the door. As he told BusinessWeek magazine earlier this year, After all, if you've fired yourself, you're much less afraid of being fired. His attitude towards business decisions is not unlike those he has made at TBS, Inc.
When Kent took over in 2003, in an effort to garner younger audiences (and the advertisers that follow them) he championed original programming. The changes worked. Kent considers the revamping of CNN the most meaningful thing he's done during his 10-year tenure with TBS, Inc., and he and his team continue to look for creative ways to reach viewers.
The week of Kent's visit to Goizueta, CNN unveiled an iPhone app that allows users to get news and streaming video (but not programming) from CNN. iReporters can submit photos and video reports directly from their iPhone. Users pay a one-time fee of $1.99 for the app, but CNN also makes money from logo placement and advertising banners. CNN generates revenue, gets exposure for its brand, and the opportunity to capture breaking news in real-time. We're making a lot of money from digital media now, Kent notes. Time Warner doesn't break out figures for TBS, Inc., but together with HBO, year-over-year second quarter revenues rose $137 million, or 5 percent, to $3 billion.
While most of the company's revenue is generated via news and sports, TBS, Inc. is working with others in its industry-programming companies, cable and satellite providers as well as phone companies-to develop a seamless technological method of authenticating subscribers, and they're testing the technology now. Paid subscribers are entitled to access content; others are not. It costs a lot of money to make shows, says Kent. It is a 'no free lunch' philosophy. After initially removing much of its content from sites like Hulu.com and YouTube.com, TBS, Inc.--along with fellow Time Warner subsidiary Warner Bros. Entertainment--recently signed a deal with YouTube to show clips of its short-form and original TV shows.
Indeed devising a strategy that makes content accessible to viewers while remaining profitable is a common problem for firms like Turner. The fight for share of wallet is being played out on three screens: mobile, television and the Internet, notes Dave Thomas, president, Global Media Client Services, The Nielsen Company, one of the leading suppliers of marketing and media information, on the Nielsen website. So far, TV is winning, Thomas writes. In the last quarter of 2008, the typical Nielsen household recorded more than 151 hours per month of at-home TV viewing (compared with 27 hours of Internet viewing).
Kent considers television networks branded media environments and TBS, Inc. puts enormous focus on building brands, Kent explains. The company then utilizes the power of its brands, including CNN, TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, truTV, Peachtree TV, Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Adult Swim, to provide advertisers with what Kent believes is a great value. There is an enormous focus on brand management-how a network is marketed, packaged-the right content, emphasizes Kent. The strategy of the company is branded media.
He reminds students that they, too, are brands. You embody key things that distinguish you, he tells them, although he could easily have been talking about the various brands in the TBS Inc. arsenal.
The TBS tag line is, Very Funny, and with the exception of a few very important baseball games, viewers will find funny when they tune into TBS. Viewers also know what they get when they turn to TNT: Drama. TNT is fortified by original programming-shows like Saving Grace, the soon to debut Men of a Certain Age, and The Closer, the most watched cable show (averaging 8.5 million viewers).
Kent considers his job pretty straightforward: He sets strategy, picks key people, puts them in the right place, challenges them to make decisions and gives them a lot of running room, he says. He's big on teamwork and collaboration, and does his best to be really there for the people who report to him. What he looks for in an employee is self-awareness, emotional intelligence and the ability to learn from mistakes-because everybody makes mistakes, he says. During job interviews, Kent likes to ask potential hires about their professional failures and what they've learned from them.
A few of Kent's missteps very early in his career? In an effort to save his then-employer $3000, he cancelled the rain insurance for a Diana Ross outdoor concert. Bad idea. It rained so hard the day of the concert, it had to be rescheduled. He'd also like a mulligan when it comes to a few businesses launched under his watch at TBS, Inc.
The demise of those ventures left Kent with a set of rules. When you launch a business, he says, Make sure the revenue assumptions are somewhat tested. That you have a really accountable management team in place to stick around and run it, he explains. Be very disciplined and intellectually honest. And don't throw good money after bad.
While Kent works in an industry driven by innovation, technology and constant change, patience is important, too. Kent has learned to be more patient and flexible with talent and fledgling shows. But if a show isn't making it after the second season the chances of it seeing a third are slim to none. A student, wondering about the fine line between paying his dues and focusing on success, asks Kent the best way to go about it. I've fetched coffee and watched a Telex machine, the self-dubbed professional manager explains. You have to patient, but you don't want to be complacent.