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Phil Kent Praises Jeff Zucker’s ‘Big, Bold Changes’ at CNN

philip_kentIn his last year-end note to Turner Broadcasting employees before he steps down as CEO, Phil Kent praised Jeff Zucker and his management team for the changes made at CNN this year:

With due respect to the other business units, there’s no part of our company that is more globally revered, more closely watched and more constantly evolving than CNN. The evolution continued in 2013 under Jeff Zucker. In front of the camera and behind it, Jeff and his management team made big, bold changes this year, and a lot of them. There are success stories across the CNN schedule, and there will be more as the changes gather and gain audience.

Meanwhile, I am encouraged that for the year now drawing to a close, CNN’s ratings are essentially even with last year, when elections and several global disasters made for challenging year-to-year comparisons, while those of its main cable news competitors are down sharply. Of course, CNN is more than the domestic television network. Its international scope and digital leadership—including best-ever metrics for page views and mobile usage—continue to set us apart and, in my admittedly biased opinion, above. I appreciate what Jeff and the CNN team have done and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

The full memo is after the jump. 

To: Colleagues
From: Phil Kent

Each year that I have served as CEO of Turner Broadcasting, I’ve sent you a holiday message highlighting business accomplishments that contributed to our company’s success. Summing up our year always leaves me proud, humbled and grateful. And it turns the page to what’s next.

Because time is short and there are too many good stories to tell and too much good work to spotlight, I want to single out three areas where the business effort has been transformational. The wisdom, willingness and ability to change that have kept Turner on the leading edge for more than 40 years continued in 2013. There are lessons for us all in challenges our colleagues faced this year, how they were met and what it means for and to our future.

This was the year that we asked our distribution partners to acknowledge the value of Turner’s brands and programming. A number of our long-term affiliate agreements expired in 2013, creating opportunity for us to negotiate carriage rates more in line with the current value of our networks and content. The stakes are high; this revenue is essential to our future investment plans. Affiliate negotiations are always challenging, often contentious and, in cases where consumers are inconvenienced, unfortunately public.

Our interests are represented by a first-class team at Turner Network Sales, led by David Levy and Coleman Breland. We don’t talk publicly in much detail about distribution rates and terms, but I can assure you that David and Coleman and their colleagues have positioned us very favorably to continue to invest in the kind of quality programming that sets our networks apart. And they conducted business in a way that we can be proud of. For all its size, wealth and success, the cable industry is still a close-knit community where people have long histories and longer memories, and where reputation matters. Turner’s could not be better, thanks to our TNS team.

The evolution of Turner’s international division continued this year under the strong leadership of Gerhard Zeiler. Right-sizing and re-focusing our Europe and Asia Pacific operations has prompted a great deal of change for and by our colleagues in those regions. At year-end, they are much leaner businesses with new goals and new leadership—Giorgio Stock in Europe and Ricky Ow in Asia. The continuing success of their counterpart in the Latin America region, Juan Carlos Urdaneta, and his team has provided the growth and stability necessary for this kind of change.

Our strategy to grow internationally needed comprehensive updating. Gerhard and his colleagues have made difficult but absolutely necessary decisions about the long-term viability of certain initiatives and the role that some team members will play going forward. They also are working much more closely with Warner Bros. and HBO to identify and take advantage of larger opportunities. We’ve been talking for some time about International as a growth engine for Turner and Time Warner. The hard work that has been done there this year gives me more confidence than ever that we will see our plans realized.

With due respect to the other business units, there’s no part of our company that is more globally revered, more closely watched and more constantly evolving than CNN. The evolution continued in 2013 under Jeff Zucker. In front of the camera and behind it, Jeff and his management team made big, bold changes this year, and a lot of them. There are success stories across the CNN schedule, and there will be more as the changes gather and gain audience.

Meanwhile, I am encouraged that for the year now drawing to a close, CNN’s ratings are essentially even with last year, when elections and several global disasters made for challenging year-to-year comparisons, while those of its main cable news competitors are down sharply. Of course, CNN is more than the domestic television network. Its international scope and digital leadership—including best-ever metrics for page views and mobile usage—continue to set us apart and, in my admittedly biased opinion, above. I appreciate what Jeff and the CNN team have done and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

The common elements in each of these success stories are vision, strategy and extraordinary teamwork. The opportunity to be part of a remarkable team is what brought me back to Turner nearly 11 years ago. I said then (I looked back at the letter I wrote to the company as its new CEO) that I wanted to make a contribution to something that is larger than any one of us, and to work with people I respect and enjoy. I mentioned how lucky we are to work at a company founded by one of the great entrepreneurs of our time. Having been privileged to occupy the seat he held, I am even more respectful of his legacy. I’m proud that we combined his audacious spirit with modern management practices to re-energize Turner Broadcasting for a new era. I have said many times over the years that every job here matters. I feel that particularly now; all of you have helped make my success in this role possible. For that and so much more, I’m grateful. I know I can count on you to afford our new CEO, John Martin; newly named president, David Levy; and the rest of the Turner senior leadership team the same support you have given me.

I hope you are proud of the year we’ve had and as optimistic as I am about Turner Broadcasting in 2014 and the years ahead. And I hope that whatever the traditions you celebrate this time of year, they are the best ones ever. Be safe, have fun and I’ll see you in the New Year.

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