TBS' and TNT's International Women's Day Programming Takeover Success Provides a New, Female-Fueled Tentpole

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The year is 2018.  March 8, to be precise.  International Women's Day is coming to a close, and two colleagues are approaching Michael Quigley in the TBS and TNT Atlanta offices.  "You know, this International Women's Day is ending," they told the Executive Vice President of Commercial Operations, Content Strategy and Monetization.  "But we think there's a way next year to showcase all the women's voices and perspectives we've got on our networks all year round, in front of and behind the camera."

Fast-forward to March 8, 2019, and that's exactly what Quigley and his team did.  From dawn through primetime, TBS and TNT played original and licensed programming that was created or directed by women, capped by the basic cable premiere of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, simulcast on both networks.  (The videos above and below encapsulate exactly what TBS and TNT did on that day.)  There were blocks of episodes of classics like Friends directed by legend Pam Fryman, strings of original shows like The Detour, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Claws, and the network premiere of Refinery29 and TNT's anthology series Shatterbox, featuring short films directed exclusively by women (which had the knock-on effect of helping some of those directors check off the required network experience to be eligible for episodic directing jobs).


"For us, it was important that this takeover be organic," Quigley said.  "To me, what was the most satisfying aspect of this was looking across the day on these two networks and seeing very different projects.  You had these compelling narratives and a range of different perspectives and characters."

Quigley categorized the linear portion of the takeover as a success, but what stood out to him was the increased viewership on the TBS and TNT apps -- we're talking increases of just under 300% for connected devices and up 737% than average for mobile usage.  "That tells me we probably got a much younger, more engaged audience watching on connected devices and mobile, versus what we'd see on our networks," he said.

This takeover required several teams working together, from programming to ad sales.  "One of the first calls I made was to Jenn Cohen," Quigley said.  Cohen is the Senior Vice President of Entertainment Content Partnerships, and she immediately became one of the biggest champions of the Women's Day takeover.  She and Quigley saw a unique sponsorship opportunity for the special programming slate -- but, in keeping with the theme of the day, the two were seeking a partner for whom female empowerment and overcoming obstacles was an integral part of the brand, rather than a company that simply stuck a "girl power" message into their branding efforts for a month.

"We did not want to take this lightly," Cohen said.  Working with the ad sales teams they found their ideal partner in Orangetheory Fitness, the gym franchise co-founded by fitness guru Ellen Latham.  "You know when a partnership is right," she continued.  "It's easy.  Everyone understood exactly what the day and the sponsorship was all about from the onset."

"This integration broke new ground and is a big part of how we see changes in TV advertising planning," said Kevin Keith, Chief Brand Officer, Orangetheory Fitness.

The key to the Orangetheory Fitness partnership was the digital crossover Quigley mentioned above.  The Orangetheory Fitness creative -- developed in-house at Turner by a team of women -- centered on Latham's story and ran in the linear showing of Wonder Woman on TBS.  But Turner and Orangetheory also created a whole social campaign to support the inspiring branded content that will run for the remainder of March, which is Women's History Month.

"Even now, you can see in the Orangetheory Fitness Instagram comments [that] people are so inspired by Ellen's story and are grateful for us highlighting her," Cohen said.

Even before seeing the reactions from both viewers and business partners, Quigley and Cohen had counted on doing this takeover again.  But because of that strong response, the possibility of other takeovers highlighting programming from other underrepresented groups is a real possibility.  

"We want to see what else we can do to bring a message of empowerment and pride in what we're doing on the programming side," Quigley said. "As a business, I don't know that we can be more relevant unless we bring more of those diverse stories to the screen.  Using these kinds of takeovers to cast a bright light on those stories also gives them a bigger platform."

Advertisers themselves continue to see the advantage of touting their core values.  "I like to support companies and brands that I believe have the same values I do," Cohen said.  "I don't think I'm alone in that."

Orangetheory Fitness image courtesy of TBS.

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