BARCELONA, Spain — Would John Martin, the CEO of CNN’s parent company Turner, meet with President Trump?
“I’m happy not doing that,” he responded when asked that question during a lunch in Barcelona.
Martin, however, doesn’t tend to overthink the President’s tweets.
“It flies by,” he said, adding that he’s often aware it’s happening, “but it’s not like somebody within CNN is calling me and saying ‘Donald Trump is calling CNN fake news.'”
“We pay attention to when the President of the United States makes comments,” Martin explained. “We obviously don’t ignore it. But I think this is where the people who have been at CNN — there’s been a lot of people who have been there for a really, really long time — take extremely seriously the journalistic mission of the organisation.”
“In the history of the world, attacking the media doesn’t seem to pay off,” Martin said, adding that “financially, CNN has never been doing better.”
Turner isn’t keen on Twitter live video, but it does like virtual reality
Elsewhere during the interview, Business Insider asked Martin whether Turner is looking closely at Twitter’s live video feature, which has attracted content from Bloomberg, CBS, and the NFL. Martin said that Turner has been in discussions with Twitter, but said that “we haven’t decided what exactly we’re going to do with respect to Twitter. I don’t know if people are going to want to watch a lot of live video.”
“It wouldn’t be true for me to just say we’re going to be everywhere,” Martin said. “We want to be on the platforms and be expressed on those platforms in ways that optimise the brands that we have.”
Martin is, however, much more excited about the potential of virtual reality, calling it “fundamentally transformative.”
“It could fundamentally change the media experience,” he said. “We’re aggressively looking at virtual reality for all of the brands that we think it would make sense.”
But there is a possibility virtual reality will never live up to expectations. 3D television was once hyped as the future of media. “3D TV’s future is so bright we had to wear shades,” wrote Engadget in 2009. However, the technology never took off, and it’s now as good as dead.
“There was so much interest in 3D, and there was so much expectation of how 3D was going to revolutionise both the film and the TV experience,” Martin said. “I never believed that because I really wondered whether people would be really, really interested in watching a lot of 3D television. I think virtual reality is a very, very different thing.”
There could be more media investments on the way from Turner
Two technology investments made by Turner in 2016 stand out as particularly interesting: Firstly, it lead a $US15 million (£12.2 million) funding round in online news site Mashable in March, and then in August it lead a $US45 million (£36.6 million) funding round in online women’s site Refinery29.
Will Turner make similar investments in digital media companies the future? “If the right opportunity comes up, yes,” Martin said.
“They reach audiences that are big and are a little bit different than our traditional networks,” Martin said. “And given that they’re digital destinations, from a monetisation standpoint, our sales team can really package up all of the inventory with our linear TV and we can monetise.”
“With respect to Refinery29, they reach a huge, huge female audience, and most of our networks skew more male. So the idea there was to see if we could take, let me use an example, Samantha Bee, who is becoming a blowout star on TBS for us in the states, and team up with Refinery29 and let them do what they’re really good at and have it be a way for Sam to reach a big additional audience.”
But why doesn’t Turner just build its own brands instead of investing in others?
“We bought Bleacher [Report],” Martin said. “So I think it’s going to be all of the above — you buy some, you’ll partner with some, and then you’ll hopefully innovate and invent some.”
Turner, which is owned by Time Warner, grew revenue by 7% to $US2.8 billion in its fourth quarter. The company said a 14% increase in subscription revenues and a 9% increase in content and other revenues partially offset a 2% decrease in ad revenue.
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