TV OF TOMORROW 2017: Turning The Spotlight on Turner Classic Movies

This year’s TV of Tomorrow (TVOT) conference took the opportunity to turn the spotlight on individuals whose businesses are counted among the biggest success stories in digital media and content creation.  One perfect example is Turner Classic Movie (TCM). (Link:  Appearing for the special Q&A, Executive Vice President Jennifer Dorian talked about how Turner Classic Movies is appealing to a wider audience by continuing to expand its product range with tie-in ancillary products and events.

The following are highlights from the Turner Classic Movies panel with TVOT moderator Tracy Sedlow:

TRACY:  I am a huge fan of the TCM Network and I am a subscriber of TCM. I’ve been watching it for most of my adult life.  I’m so proud to see a woman doing so many innovative and creative things, way ahead of a lot of other networks. We’re so happy that you could share your experiences and your ideas for how to continue doing a great job…  Are movies TV? Can movies be TV on TCM?
JENNIFER:    Absolutely, wall-to-wall, 24/7. I think it’s really ironic. I want to address the elephant in the room. Here we are at TV of Tomorrow and I know the first brand that comes to your mind or to your lips, about the future of television is a 23-year-old cable network that celebrates the last 100 years of film. So Turner Classic Movies is here to talk about the future of TV.  I came across the country from Atlanta because I do think we have something to share, and that is that the future is fan-forward. And TCM, I’m blessed to work at a network that people before me built a community of fans that I want tell you more about and how we’re reaching out to them.  I think the history of TV is full of competition for eyeballs, but the future of TV is gonna be about competition for share of hearts.

TRACY:    Your strategy and your new title is Executive Vice President of 360 Brand Strategy and General Manager, TCM and FilmStruck. So you are busy. Can you tell us a little bit about what they want you to do and what it is like?
JENNIFER:    Yes. Everyone here knows the competition for entertainment product is at a all-time high. A tsunami of content washing over us every day, every year and every programmer is struggling with how to compete in that volume. Second, the consumer has control more than ever before. So you can’t just use a push strategy where you’re going to shove content in front of people’s faces. It’s about pull. So therefore, we believe at Turner, that reinventing television means putting the fan at the center, and it’s definitely a mindset shift. We grew up just like everybody else with TV broadcasting a big one-size-fits-all. And the future is, for sure, about getting like-minded communities to come together and engage about content that speaks to them.  So, at TCM, we’ve been able to — for many backgrounds, almost random reasons — the choice to be commercial-free. Ted Turner set it up that way so that we would serve the cable operators and give them a valuable blue-chip asset to put in their portfolio. Fast-forward to today, and in the future, being commercial-free is so valuable because people want to watch movies and television commercial-free.  Anyway, that opportunity, of presenting films the way they’re meant to be seen, allows classic film fans to come to TCM, have a good experience, and then build good will towards TCM. They come as classic film fans, then they earn the respect and inclusion in their hobby.  So 360. Having that fan-centered approach at TCM has allowed TCM to go first into the foray of “Let’s have a cruise. Would anybody show up? Would people pay $3,000 to $4,000 to be with other movie fans in the Caribbean for four days, for seven days, etc.?” And we did it, and we sold out ever year, for, like eight years. Would people go to a festival? Could you have a red carpet for a movie that’s 40 years old? Would celebrities show up, would fans show? And they do. So I think TCM is showing the way toward fan engagement and new revenue streams. And that’s why we have to think about the same thing, and oversee and help those teams working at it, whether it’s CNN or Conan, Team Coco or Samantha Bee.

TRACY:  The fact that you are not monetized through traditional advertising, I think people are curious. How do you generate revenue, other than being this sort of gold-chip property inside Turner? The fact that you’ve been able build your brand extensions and the fan relationships and generate more revenue, I think that people would be very curious about that, as well as the fact that you are distributing across all platforms or exploring new platforms. . . As a viewer, just a casual viewer, have noticed, and I thought, “Wow, this network looks great.” One thing that they do that I don’t think other networks do as well, is fanatic programming. You built some themes into that programming and bring back the curator with editorial insight into what’s going to show up next. Now other networks may not be able to do that.  Maybe that’s not what the mass of the American audience they want. But I know there’s a highly passionate, loyal audience that likes that kind of experience.  . .Of course, you did all of this re-design of the network, which was, I think, really stunning.
JENNIFER:    At Turner, while still offering classic Hollywood at TCM, if you’re a serious fan of foreign, independent, art-house, independent, foreign films and critically acclaimed films — right now those are spread out all over the place or impossible to find — so we had that insight and true user-need combined with the fact that we had good relationships across the distributor universe with TCM — and we learned that the Criterion Collection was having success on Hulu and their content was up and they were interested in being in a more immersive and focused streaming space. So we built with them, this idea of having one place you could go: FilmStruck, for the definitive film library for foreign and art-house films. So we launched the streaming service nine months ago, and I’m so excited that the audience is completely unique to TCM.

TRACY:    Could you talk about numbers?
JENNIFER:    So that hypothesis that the folks who are coming for nostalgia and classic film and Hollywood are going to have one experience, but the folks that want foreign and art-house are going to be a different group. So nine months in, we’ve got a lot of early adopters.  We offer our service for $6.99 a month if you want the 300 FilmStruck films or $10.99 a month if you want all-the-time access to the entire Criterion Collection — and 90% of the people are going for the premium model. It just shows you that fans will engage, want to participate, want to support … and have an on-demand access to the things they love all the time. We also have great retention on our side. What our big challenge is now is:  awareness and acquisition. So I think it has some really healthy vital signs.  We’re excited as this summer, we are gonna have a large marketing thing. We chose that on Roku, You.i was incredible with our user interface, navigation, and also getting us out on many platforms very quickly… You mentioned that about TCM — curation and context. So how do you take old movies and keep them relevant? Well, you link it to topical subjects. Right now, we have Pride Month, and we have fantastic festivals on our air and on FilmStruck, respectively, on that subject. Everything is presented with introductions, curation, event ties to the themes.

TRACY:    Commentary and original pieces on directors.
JENNIFER:    That’s right, mini-documentaries.

TRACY:    And you organize it by directors. I mean, why is Netflix not doing these kinds of things?
JENNIFER:    I’m glad you said that. The minute we did our press release back in October, we did not say, “We’re gonna outdo Netflix in film.” But all the press wrote, “Oh my God, this is Netflix for independent and foreign film and this is so much better … See yeah later, Netflix, goodbye!” And we did have some insights about it. Netflix is the mega store, and it’s very focused on TV, and it’s very focused on its originals. It’s leaving a weak spot for people who want curation, context, discussion, commentary. People talk about “fan-ship” … Film is life. Film is art. Film is culture. Film is hobby. Film is community for them. This isn’t just a media service slapping up an aggregated library. This is a calling for people who work at FilmStruck and for the people who join. Film is vital and present. So when I talk about the psychology of fans, one thing I’ve learned working at TCM and FilmStruck is the importance of understanding your fan base: what they need and why they care about you? So at Turner, we partnered with Susan Kresnicka, who just finished “The Power of Fandom” study. It’s been like two or three year study … check it out: “The Power of Fandom.” And she taught us that whether you’re a fan of Harry Potter or SUPERNATURAL or TCM or the Kansas City Chiefs or Marvel Comics, it does not matter. You have the same psychological underpinning needs that are driving you to be a fan of that. And they tend to have three big things: What’s my identity as a person? How do I get self care? And how do I have social connections? I thought those three things were so true for TCM, because people are identifying as a classic film fan. They know that it shows that they’re intellectual, that they’re different, that they have, maybe, a nostalgia with their family or loved ones. That they’re part of a community. So people are seeing something of value in that IP or TV … and saying “Yeah, I want to project my identity as to my role as part of that.” Like Wonder Woman and what’s happened in the last three weeks. There are people seeing Wonder Woman because of the Marvel canon and they are a fan of supernatural, fun superheroes. But there are also people going to express their values and what they care about. Then they’re finding out, “Wow, that was really fun, to go to a superhero movie.” They’d never gone before. So they’re going to wear Wonder Woman tee-shirts and they’re going to Wonder Woman gatherings.

TRACY:    I’ve been covering communities since the early ’90s as a journalist. How we’ll be part of e-groups and e-world? I always knew that there was the relationship between communities and discussion and television. I worked in all these fields, and I would say that you, as a multi-platform network, have been able to explore those ideas through all these brand extensions in remarkable ways. Before the technology, in some ways, was available.  Now, the technology is potentially going to be available. For example, Facebook just announced their huge commitment to communities. I think that we’re going to see a transformation where if you don’t understand the role of communities and you don’t understand fan relationships and brand extensions and if you haven’t already done that work, you’re going to have to. Because Facebook is a communities platform so people can talk about films or talk about their computers  or whatever are their favorite shows or Marvel films. Potentially, that’s when you create a “sea change” across entire broadcasting community. But you have really demonstrated, I think, a particular talent for thinking all of those ideas through.
JENNIFER:    We’re lucky because we started with a fan base that is thirsting for more. As we saw in the video, people were asking us, “How could we live-and-breathe classic film? We want it in our home.  We want to get together. We want to read about it and to wear it.” So that percentage came really naturally to TCM.  I love when the quote from “The Power of Fandom” : “Just remember:  fans are not consumers; fans are participants.” I thought that was a really good “north star” with how can we let fans participate in classic film.

TRACY:   I watched film, probably, on television first, as a kid. It was vitally important to me. So for me, film on television, I always thought, it’s not different — it’s screened entertainment… So what you are doing, you’re still embracing traditional film viewings through the classic movie festival… They add that the commentary and curation into live programming.
JENNIFER:    An amazing finding from “The Power of Fandom” is that you have to give people a chance to have everyday rituals and regular consumption of your brand. So you have to create special experiences. You have to create a mecca. You have to create the thing that a person goes to and it shows their passion and it’s like their dream world. At Turner Classic Movies’ Classic Film Festival in Hollywood every year, is that… They want to have peak experiences. So with any brand I work on, I think: what is the peak, most fantastical thing this brand can bring to the world, that the fans can rally around? And our festival has lived up to it.

TRACY:    And then you also do TCM bus tours. Not television, but again, another brand extension.
JENNIFER:    In New York and L.A. (TCM Tours link:

TRACY:    And you’ve got a wine club.
JENNIFER:    This is funny. A lot of people scratched their heads when this first came about, but when you think about entertaining and novelty and home — wine and movies do go together. It’s just really fun and has really taken off. (TCM Wineclub Link:

TRACY:   Do you think that’s making any money, these wine club things?
JENNIFER:    Yes, it is.

TRACY:    Again, it’s another way to monetize.
JENNIFER:    [Laughs] It’s not just shameless revenue pursuit.

TRACY:    Another interesting thing is your Backlot, where you embrace fans.
JENNIFER:    This is a newish, one year-old fan club. So Dave Matthews Band — think of all the great IP touring bands that knew how to do fan clubs a long time ago. We borrowed a page from their playbook and started the ultimate fan club, where you have behind-the-scenes access and you have influence over what we do. You can vote on the Star of the Month, you can vote on different events and festivals. Right now, we’re finishing and we’ll announce soon, but we’re gonna take TCM to your home town and have a full TCM classic movie house experience in one of three cities. (TCM Backlot link:

TRACY:    And at Ball State University, it offers a course that’s all about film.
JENNIFER:    I’m so glad you brought this up. So, Film Noir, which was really successful two summers ago. This summer, we’re doing a massive online open course about “50 years of Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense,” and it’s fantastic. We have 40 movies on our parent list.  Complementing your core business is so important. This complements, with an online open free course through Kansas and Ball State University, where you get videos, commentary, lectures, articles, and you get other fans contributing to the conversation every single Wednesday and Friday.  No other network is going to present commercial-free, 50 years of Alfred Hitchcock along with an interactive, educational, certified program. So I’m very proud of our moves, and they’ve had really good connection, reach. But mostly the highest completion rate that Kansas has ever seen. Our fans are serious. (Ball State University “50 years of Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense” link: )

TRACY:    There’s a quote I want to read about the fact that you are the millennial audience, right? Traditionally, you don’t think of Turner Classic Movies as being a network for millennials, but this quote says that: “Millennials are the most active in terms of talking about it and getting the word out about it. I think the younger TCM-ers are a lot more passionate and vocal in a way the older ones aren’t. Last year, I met people I never met before. Now I spend more time talking with them than anyone else, after I went to that Classic Film Festival.”  So it seems like there’s a hidden community of people who are interested in this type of content, curation, editorial commentary, and I feel like that’s a great model. It’s not just for the older set, it’s for the younger community to embrace as well.
JENNIFER:    We’re really fortunate that we have people of all walks of life and ages. A lot of times, people are either film fanatics or young people interested in film or any creative enterprise because all of us can relate to Hollywood as a place to go back to and get inspiration and knowledge and learning about — whether it’s fashion or art design, or even history. The classic film is, literally, a record of our culture for the last 100 years, and a lot of young people are very interested in that. It’s really fun. You see a lot, at our festival, for example grandparents or parents with their children.
TRACY:    Now, one thing you’re not doing and a lot of companies are still not doing it, but there are certain places where it’s being explored. How can you make this content on the big screen interactive?
JENNIFER:    We more than aware of this.

TRACY:    Netflix also just announced interactive programming with “choose your own adventure” and they purchased the rights to do that like a year or two ago. I think that we might see that. I, personally, think that TCM is a good network to explore that technology.
JENNIFER:    That’s very interesting question. This can be a creative brief for anybody in the room. We’re right now in 700 theaters, 14 times a year, through the Fathom Network.  (Link: TCM Fathom Events link: That is really an on mission for us because you get to see the best films of all time as they were originally meant to be seen and can bring friends and family along to catch the movie-bug with you. At the same time, it gives us a little bit of a place to promote what’s going on on the air, great scene-pulling.  But interactivity in that venue is not what people would be craving, I suppose. They really want to immerse in the big screen, but before and after could be fun, and I think a lot of anticipation and buildup could be fun.

TRACY:    I’m hoping someday to be able to see interactive trivia on the big screen while you’re watching, perhaps.
JENNIFER:    That’s great. And actually, trivia can be apps, can be games. … That’s one of the ways fans want to demonstrate their mastery and their commitment, is to play games, right? With whatever fandom we’re talking about, and demonstrating all this. So I think TCM’s been missing that opportunity for a while.

(Note:  This Q&A has been edited and condensed.)

For more information about this year’s TV Of Tomorrow conference, you can read our prior article:

TV OF TOMORROW 2017:  What TV Viewers Need To Know About How Technology Is Making Content More Accessible and Profitable