c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

The Turner Classic Movies cable channel prides itself on running films that are, as it proclaims, “uncut and commercial-free.” But commercial-free does not mean free of commercial considerations, in the sense that TCM, like channels that accept ads and interrupt movies to show them, still has to make a buck.

As a result, executives at TCM and its parent, the Turner Entertainment Networks division of Turner Broadcasting System, are increasing marketing efforts for the channel, which is available in more than 85 million U.S. households. For instance, a redesign of TCM’s logo and graphics was introduced Aug. 1 during the start of a monthlong programming block known as Summer Under the Stars.

Most of the new initiatives are centered on giving current and potential viewers tangible ways to engage with TCM away from their TV sets, in what is known as experiential marketing. Examples include a guided tour of New York movie sites and sights on a sightseeing bus, to be offered by TCM and On Location Tours three days a week, beginning Thursday; an annual Hollywood film festival in April; a yearly TCM Classic Cruise in December; an auction of movie memorabilia, planned for November, in partnership with Bonhams; screenings of movies like “Frankenstein” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in theaters around the country; and DVD collections sold online and by retailers like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart.

The idea is “to evolve from a linear network to a lifestyle brand” by turning loyal TCM viewers into “a community of fans,” said Jeff Gregor, the general manager of TCM in Atlanta, who is also the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of two other Turner channels, TBS and TNT.

As Turner, a division of Time Warner, pursues its experiential strategy for TCM, it counterintuitively is not playing down the “Classic” in the channel’s brand identity to appeal to younger consumers. Indeed, after the recent graphics redesign, the word “Classic” “has been accentuated,” Gregor said, and now appears in boldface, with “Turner” and “Movies” remaining in regular type.

Although research has found that two-thirds of the channel’s estimated 62 million viewers each month are ages 18 to 49, Gregor said that “‘Classic’ is not a negative in any way,” because viewers deem TCM to be “more a mind-set than an age,” providing “context and curation” for the films it presents.

(What is it about “Classic” and Atlanta? In 1985, another mainstay of the city’s business landscape, the Coca-Cola Co., added the word to the brand name of its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola, and removed it in 2009.)

Derek Baine, a senior analyst at the research firm SNL Kagan, described TCM as “doing very well” in the crowded cable universe, which is getting “more competitive, with more and more channels,” including newcomers like Al Jazeera America, El Rey Network, Fox Sports 1, FXX and Pivot.

TCM has a “healthy cash flow margin,” Baine said, from the 30 cents per subscriber per month that Turner receives from cable system operators that carry the channel, which “generates almost $300 million a year in license fees.”

TCM’s status as the only channel on basic cable that shows its films without commercials or commercial interruptions may not seem like an advantage given that “with DVRs, a lot of people are zipping through the commercials,” Baine said. “But it’s more convenient if they’re already gone.”

The marketing activities could represent a gamble for TCM in that some fans who like the absence of ads may perceive the channel as becoming commercialized. But that does not worry Robert Osborne, a TCM host since its debut on April 14, 1994, who said he welcomed “anything we can do to keep the company making enough of a profit so we don’t have to have commercials, sell underarm deodorants and all that.”

The marketing efforts help make TCM “more accessible,” Osborne said Tuesday at a stop during the media preview of the bus tour, called the TCM Classic Film Tour.

“We’re not just on the air,” he added. “We make the movie experience available to people.”


The bus tour, which lasts three hours, is to make stops at locations like the town house in which Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) lived in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” at 169 E. 71st St.; Grand Central Terminal, where movies like “North by Northwest” were filmed; 590 Lexington Ave., where Marilyn Monroe stood atop a subway grate for “The Seven Year Itch”; and Zabar’s, featured in films like “Manhattan” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

More marketing initiatives for TCM are in the works for 2014, Gregor said, to help celebrate the channel’s 20th anniversary. Those “experiential activations,” as he described them, include licensed merchandise like jewelry, in partnership with the Parham Santana agency, and books bearing the brand names of TCM and the Simon & Schuster unit of the CBS Corp.