Now here's a TV company that really knows how to network. Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) is a leading operator of cable TV networks. Its portfolio includes Turner Network Television (TNT), the TBS Superstation, and cable news service CNN. TBS also operates truTV, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, and Boomerang (an offshoot of the Cartoon Network that airs older animated shows). In addition, the company oversees websites related to its TV properties (such as CNN.com and CartoonNetwork.com). Through an agreement with NASCAR, it also runs stock car racing information portal NASCAR.com. Founded by broadcasting pioneer R.E. "Ted" Turner, TBS is the primary cable TV subsidiary of media titan Time Warner.
The company's TV channels have enjoyed significant success in recent years, boasting some of the biggest audiences on cable. TNT has built a loyal audience through a focus on dramatic series and movies, including such syndicated programs as Cold Case, ER, and Law & Order, while TBS has concentrated its programming on such comedies as The Office and Seinfeld. The networks have also been investing in original programming to boost their ratings: Such shows as The Closer and Saving Grace have drawn good audiences for TNT, while TBS found a sitcom hit with Tyler Perry's House of Payne. And in 2010 TBS scored a coup when it hired former Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien to create a late night talk show for the network.
In addition to series programming and movies, both of Turner's flagship networks have deals with major sports leagues to augment their ratings. TBS offers a slate of regular season baseball games along with Division Series playoff games under a seven-year, $500 million deal with with Major League Baseball that began in 2008. (The broadcast partnership, signed in 2006, ended the cable network's long and exclusive relationship with the Atlanta Braves.) TNT, meanwhile, broadcasts NASCAR racing and NBA professional basketball. Expanding its sports coverage, Turner joined with broadcaster CBS in 2010 to ink a 14-year college basketball rights pact with the the NCAA. The deal, valued at $10.8 billion, gives the cable programmer and the broadcaster rights to air the March Madness tournament. Turner plans to air games across the channels TBS, TNT, and truTV.
The company's Cartoon Network continues to chase Viacom's Nickelodeon in the kids market during the day with such animated shows as Teen Titans and Ed, Edd n Eddy. At night, however, the channel has found a niche with older viewers with its hit Adult Swim block of programming. The Cartoon Network scored a major coup when it inked a broadcast deal with George Lucas' Lucasfilm Animation in 2008 to air the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The show began airing its third season in 2010. Further broadening of the European market, TBS acquired the Icelandic based Latibaer, owner of the LazyTown brand in 2011.
In a bid to cash in on the popularity of reality-based programming, Turner Broadcasting recast its Court TV channel as truTV in 2008. The network offers such primetime fare as Black Gold, a show about the dangerous world of oil drilling, and Speeders, which showcases misbehaving motorists. The company had acquired Liberty Media's 50% stake in Court TV in 2006 for about $735 million. The channel originally made its name with live and recorded courtroom footage.
The one TBS property that has lagged in ratings, though, has been CNN's flagship news channel. Overtaken by FOX News, the pioneer in 24-hour news coverage has been fighting with MSNBC for table scraps despite numerous attempts at format changes and a revolving door of anchors. Increased political interest did help boost ratings during the 2008 Presidential campaign, however.