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The moviegoer

Robert Osborne, who hosts this month's '31 Days of Oscar' on Turner Classic Movies, represents the history of Hollywood. Up next: A new management team tries to shape the future of the Atlanta-based network.



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The change basically meant going from more of a vertical management structure to a horizontal one, with other Turner executives adding TCM to their duties and TCM executives adding assignments at other Turner networks to their duties.

As an example of this new structure, Koonin points to Jonathan Karron, who went from being TCM's director of marketing to vice president of digital marketing for TBS, TNT and TCM. "We saw that there was opportunity to give people broader exposure. ... You can learn best practices from each one."

At Turner, like with most networks, it's all about strengthening the "brand," and the network is contemplating several strategies to do this. The term in vogue is "brands without borders," which is in keeping with a push to make the networks function more in concert with one another.

Before, TCM operated more independently of the other networks. But under Steve Koonin's leadership, the desire is to bring TCM more in line with the others, which includes cross promotion.

"Around Christmas we did an e-commerce spot on TNT promoting TCM products," says Molly Battin, the senior VP in charge of brand development and digital platforms. "And we saw a spike in our sales."

While the network may have lost some of its management and veteran creative energy, there seems to be faith that those who remain will maintain TCM's level of quality. You can see it in Osborne but also in the one-two programming punch of senior VP for programming Charlie Tabesh and VP of original productions Tom Brown.

"The great comfort I have not being at the company anymore is knowing that people like Charlie [Tabesh] are still carrying the torch," Karsch says.

Tabesh, who's been with TCM since 1998, oversees the programming from a library of 5,000 titles. About 40 percent of movies shown on TCM come from the Turner library, with the rest coming from licensing arrangements with other libraries. The complicated arrangements are based on factors such as how many titles are needed and for how long.

On more challenging projects such as the "Race and Hollywood" series, which addresses racial stereotypes, TCM lines up academics and film figures to introduce movies that speak to them.

Tabesh also works in concert with Brown to pair documentaries of film legends with themed programming of movies that celebrate their work. Among those is last year's three-hour, Emmy-nominated Brando. And last month, the network featured the Martin Scorsese-narrated documentary, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, a partnership of TCM, Scorsese (a huge Lewton fan) and writer/director Kent Jones.

The documentary kicked off a 10-film series by the horror master including The Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. TCM also added the doc to sister company Warner Home Video's re-release of its Lewton box set. "There have been people like Clint Eastwood or Martin Scorsese with a project they knew no other network would do, but also, we don't have that budget," Brown says. "Val Lewton was [Scorsese's] passion project. We were intrigued ... this was a producer who was very influential in Hollywood but one the average movie-goer didn't know about."

Future original programming projects include a Race and Hollywood series focusing on Asian figures in American movies, as well as a serialized version of the special Under the Influence, in which film critic Elvis Mitchell interviews actors and directors about movies that influenced their work.

The financial stakes of all the new deals and partnerships are high, especially considering that the network is already in more than 90 percent of the cable homes it can be in. Those cable-operator license fees, which Variety projects will climb past $200 million in 2008, have a ceiling.

So Koonin is looking for other ways to make more money. If there's one thing management is most proud of, it's the increased revenue generated from book and DVD sales. Part of the jump has come from its partnerships with Warner Home Video and the home-entertainment warehouse Movies Unlimited.

With the TCM name on a movie almost instantly offering a seal of approval, sales doubled last year from $2 million in 2006 to $4 million. The network scored another coup with its promotion of an 800-page DVD catalog (priced at $15 with shipping), which sold 30,000 copies and led to more DVD sales.

"It speaks to classic fans," says Richard Steiner, VP for new media/interactive. "They love to have something physical in their hands that speaks to classic film, the ones who like to have it and see it. It represents a collector's element, and it helps you add to your collection."

So there's a push to drive more people to a website that already draws more than 1 million unique visitors a month, and which is flush with DVDs and other merchandise.

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