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Upfronts 2019: WarnerMedia Sets Sail for Success with Sports, Xandr, Streaming

WarnerMedia’s 2019 Upfront presentation on Wednesday was a big one for the company as it plots a course for the future under a new name and with a new parent at the top. Despite the move away from the TimeWarner monicker as a result of the AT&T purchase, there’s still plenty familiar with WarnerMedia — though plenty is set to change as well.

Included in the major headlines were an emphasis on utilizing AT&T advertising arm Xandr to deliver more addressable and cross-platform products (according to chief executive John Stankey), the upcoming streaming service and a wider scope for TBS programming. Sports received a mention — in the form of the new All Elite Wrestling (a potential WWE contender) coming this fall — and it should stand to reason that sort of content will continue to be a major draw for both TBS and TNT.

Using data from TV ad measurement company iSpot.tv, we looked at brand and programming data on TBS and TNT from March 1 through May 15. Below is a look at each, individually, identifying top shows and advertisers, as well as audiences.


Data via iSpot.tv (March 1 – May 15)

Over the course of the last two and a half months, TNT’s audience skewed 58.36% male vs. 41.64% female and 36.7% of all viewers were in the 35-54 years age range. The split makes sense when just looking at how many impressions were generated by sports in the timeframe: 54.1% of all impressions (over 19.5 billion) on TNT came from the NBA and college basketball. Supernatural, Charmed and NCIS: New Orleans were the other top shows in terms of impressions, combining to carve out nearly 14% of the total.

Data via iSpot.tv, March 1 – May 15

It should come as no surprise that the top brand advertisers on TNT looked a lot like the top advertisers for the NBA and NCAA Tournament, given how many impressions those basketball properties accounted for. GEICO led the way in terms of airings, spend and impressions, followed by AT&T, Progressive, Samsung, Kia and State Farm. Corona, Burger King, AutoTrader.com and American Express rounded out the top 10, each spending at least an estimated $9.8 million advertising on TNT in the timeframe.

WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports appears poised to succeed on the upcoming streaming service as well, given its already strong digital presence. According to video measurement company Tubular Labs, three of the top six cross-platform sports social video creators in April were owned or operated by Turner Sports. The NBA (operated by) collected nearly a billion views across platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, placing them second overall. Turner-owned Bleacher Report was third and House of Highlights was No. 6 — with both of the latter properties generating over 700,000 views apiece on the month.


On TBS, which has typically focused on comedy (plus some sports), the audience was much closer to an even split for the March 1-May 15 time period. Males made up just 52.1% of audiences versus 47.9%, according to iSpot. And 37.5% of viewers (an even higher percentage than on TNT) were in the 35-54 age range.

Data from iSpot.tv, March 1-May 15

The NCAA Tournament led the way on TBS in terms of impressions, but only narrowly over syndicated episodes of The Big Bang Theory. In fact, after March Madness, the next four shows — Big Bang, Friends, Family Guy, The King of Queens — are all syndicated comedies. American Dad is the only show in the top 10 (by impressions) airing new episodes on TBS. That fact may inform the announcement on Wednesday that the network will be diversifying its offering to include some dramatic series as well.

Top brand advertisers on TBS could wind up switching places with some of TNT’s if there’s a significant programming switch over to dramas. Of TNT’s top 20 shows (by impressions), all were either dramas, sports or movies. Of TBS’s top 10 advertisers by spend during the March 1-May 15 timeframe, four (GEICO, Progressive, AT&T, State Farm) already matched those among TNT’s top advertisers — though part of that comes from the NCAA Tournament crossover on both. An emphasis on programming beyond comedy could lead to more similarities as the networks stop being separated by “comedy” and “drama” labels.

WarnerMedia’s utilization of Xandr going forward should mean a lot more of that crossover in terms of both content and ad inventory (especially with Tuesday’s announcement of the Community ad marketplace) . The upcoming streaming service should also introduce new opportunities for advertisers that perhaps haven’t spent as much time with WarnerMedia — or at least the TBS/TNT side of things — on linear TV just yet. In any case, the next seven months (and more) should be interesting ones as the company plots a course for its new, AT&T-backed future.