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Turner CEO: It’s Time For ‘Shitty Networks’ To Die

December 1, 2016, 11:49 PM UTC
Illustration by James Joyce for Fortune; Animation by Kacy Burdette

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Last night I stopped by Recode’s Code Media event in midtown Manhattan, where Turner CEO John Martin talked about the AT&T-Time Warner deal to a crowd of media execs. (Reminder: Turner is owned by Time Warner.) A few notes:

Martin was the CFO of Time Warner when the company spun out Time Warner Cable in 2005. The rationale then was that it didn’t make sense to have a “dumb pipe” company alongside a content company. How is teaming up with AT&T now any different? In short: Scale. Time Warner Cable was regional. AT&T, with DirecTV and its mobile carrier service, is national. Also: Data. Martin admits that he didn’t realize how important data would transform how Time Warner monetizes its audience. AT&T brings immense access to data analytics.

It would be “a moronic thought” for Time Warner’s content, like HBO, to become exclusive on one of AT&T’s distribution platforms because it would ruin the value of HBO, he said. But a few minutes later, he said Time Warner may consider making exclusive premium content for mobile devices or DirecTV.

The media world is constantly debating which is king: content or distribution. Martin argues it’s neither. User experience is king. Over time, it may be strategic for Time Warner to own the ”end-to-end user experience”

Skinny bundles are the future because “there are too many shitty networks that have to go away,” and pared-down packages of streaming cable channels would wipe them out. None of Turner’s networks in fall into the “shitty” bucket, though. “I feel good about the concentrated value of our networks,” Martin said.