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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Getting to know....Phil Kent

I know many of you are saying huh? Who is Phil Kent. Phil Kent is the chairman and chief executive officer of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Named to his post in February 2003, his responsibilities include corporate oversight of the TBS, Inc. domestic and international entertainment, animation and news networks and businesses, including TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies and Court TV; Cartoon Network, CNN Worldwide, which includes CNN/U.S., CNN Headline News, CNN International and Kent has overall responsibility for all news and entertainment advertising and distribution, both domestically and internationally, as well as for all corporate administrative functions and Turner Sports. *

Not long ago, actually it was March 19, 2008, Phil Kent sat down with Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Matt Kempner for a question and answer. We're going to reprint portions of the article, since it fits so well with our 'Getting to Know You' series. If you'd like to read the entire article just follow the link.

Q: Do you get a hard time from friends and family about what you put on TV?
A: The interesting thing about TV is everybody thinks they are an expert, and everybody is an expert because everybody consumes a lot. My father, who is retired from the fashion industry, will often call me up and ask me who is overseeing the wardrobe for some of our anchors.

Q: How much of television watching is a part of your life outside of work?
A: It's almost like wallpaper in my office. It's playing all day, but I'm rarely focused on it. But I watch probably two hours in the evening. I usually watch an hour of CNN and one or two hours of something else.

Q: You've talked about how crucial it is to pick good people. Was there a time when you went badly wrong on a choice?
A: We hired a really good person for a pretty senior job, and I just had a gut feeling that they weren't quite ready for that job, but I didn't stop it. There's a tired expression, which is: "Pick great people." That's only half the sentence. You have to pick great people and put them in the right job. It could be a stretch for them, but it needs to be a job that you think they have a pretty good chance of being able to do well.

Q: You used to be a Hollywood talent agent representing writers and producers. Tell me about the talents that takes.
A: Patience, honesty, consistency and good follow-through. Patience in being able to stay on the phone with people with a wide variety of mood swings ...

Q: What about being a Hollywood agent is like being a CEO?
A: Understanding how to motivate people. You learn how to read people and understand what makes them tick.

Q: What's the toughest decision you've had to make as CEO at Turner Broadcasting?
A: It's a rite of passage of most senior executives that at some point they have to ease out somebody who is also a friend.

Q: Have you come up with a good way of firing a friend?
A: There's nothing more humane than honesty. You can deliver bad news with empathy, sympathy and encouragement.

Q: How has that gone?
A: Some better than others. There are people I'm still friends with to this day. And some people were very hurt. ... But I always felt I acted in the best interests of Turner. Those are among the toughest decisions. It's much harder than canceling a show.

Q: What's the one thing you'd like to ask other CEOs?
A: It would be really interesting to swap stories about how in order to develop your most senior people you have to sometimes watch a minor train wreck. If you know a mistake is being made, you can't stop every mistake from being made because then people don't learn. Having that judgment to know what's a big enough impending train wreck to step in and say, "No, don't do that." As versus, "Is that really what you want to do? I think you ought to think about this."
The question I always ask when I'm doing job interviews is, "Tell me about the failures you've had professionally and what you've learned from them."

Q: What's the biggest mistake you've made?
A: The worst at the time was canceling the rain insurance at the Diana Ross concert in Central Park in 1982 or '83. ... My company was doing the radio simulcast. I think I was in my late 20s. I canceled to save the gigantic sum of $3,000. That night was one of the most historic black-cloud, rain-drenching electric storms. ... We had to restage the whole thing the next night. It cost my company a lot of money. They were pretty upset with me.

Q: Tell me about the state of the TV industry and where the industry is headed.
A: There's never been a time when TV had more opportunity and more built-in risk to its business model. There are so many new things that people do in their free time.

Q: What's the big risk?
A: The big risk is the audience is fragmenting. A big risk in the business model of television is now the currency of the business has changed. Where we used to get paid for how many people watch the program, now we get paid for how many people watch the commercials. Even though we are not responsible for making the commercials.

Q: When did that take place, and what impact will it have?
A: Last fall. Take CNN, for example. It becomes more important than ever in the daily execution of our presenting our networks to make sure that going into a commercial we really try to do our best to keep the audience glued. So teases become much more important.
On the entertainment side, you will see a lot of what we call hard openings, when you go right from the closing credits of one show right into the opening credits of another. If you have noticed on TBS recently, we don't waste a lot of time with the opening theme song of "Friends." There's a quick shot of the friends around the fountain, a couple of bars of music and right into the episode.

Q: What's your best guess on what the TV industry and Turner Broadcasting will be like in five or 10 years?
A: People are going to demand what they want to see, when they want to see it and how they want to see it. We are going to need to accommodate those demands without completely disrupting our business model. Or we may not even be successful in not disrupting our business model.

Q: This is the company that Ted Turner built. How are you and Ted Turner most different and most alike?
A: We are very different. I could not have done what Ted Turner did. Ted had the uncanny ability of being able to see around corners. He is a classic entrepreneur. I am, I think, a pretty accomplished professional manager. It's a completely different skill set.

Q: Could Ted Turner survive and thrive in this kind of industry now?
A: That's a good question for him.

If you'd like to see a video of Mr. Kent being honored by Broadcast and Cable News 17th Annual Hall of Fame just follow the link. It's interesting to hear how of many of the people and programs we watch on a daily basis. are because of Phil Kent.

*Information reprinted from Kent's online Time Warner bio.

That's it for me this week. I'd like to thank our Ratings Guru for the Phil Kent find. Don't forget to check out this weeks Ratings at a Glance. ~Phebe

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1 comment:

J in LA said...

Phil Kent is right! I never tell anyone who sits next to me on a flight what I do. You'll hear everything that is wrong with television based on their expert opinion. Except for the fact that none of them have ever spent a day working in TV.
J in LA