Tom Karsch, newly promoted to executive vice president and
general manager of Turner Classic Movies, said last week that he will in effect be that
network's global brand manager, "overseeing global consistency in TCM's
look and feel."
That will be a bigger job than it seems now that TCM is the
subject of a new international-distribution thrust.
Turner Broadcasting System International Inc. president
Phil Kent announced TCM's Sept. 1 launch in Spain, with TCM UK, TCM for
French-speaking countries and feeds to Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Africa and the Middle
East all due Oct. 15.
Those launches represent a departure, Karsch said, since
until now, TNT Classic Movies was the brand being promoted worldwide.
Since Turner Network Television is increasingly known for
original movies and wrestling abroad, as in the United States, Karsch said, it now makes
sense to globally market the two networks separately.
Those non-U.S. clearances "won't be very big to
begin with" as far as households, Karsch said, adding that TCM's new
international Web site will initially reach far more homes than cable.
In the announcement made by Brad Siegel, president of TCM
and TNT, Karsch was credited with boosting original programming and helping to lift TCM by
25 million subscribers since he switched from TNT in fall 1995.
Karsch said TCM is now seen in 34 million U.S. households
-- mainly cable, but also an unspecified number of direct-broadcast satellite homes.
Karsch -- who emphasized that he won't be involved in
international operations beyond the marketing aspects -- will lead TCM into new off-air
branding opportunities, ranging from the Web abroad to retail, where TCM-branded compact
discs and videos are already sold.
When asked if TCM might set up themed boutiques within
existing stores, as VH1 and The Nashville Network have just started doing, Karsch would
only say that TCM's retail plans would involve "more than just selling key
chains with the TCM logo."
Elsewhere in the off-channel marketing arena, TCM vice
president of marketing Katherine Evans said in July that she would be interested in
expanding future in-theater advertising to encompass popcorn containers and soft-drink
cups embellished with TCM's genre icons.
But TCM won't convert its "Now Playing"
program guide into a magazine, a la American Movie Classics' monthly.
Karsch explained that consumer research shows that people
"use it mainly for scheduling purposes. They don't want a magazine."
Moreover, such a conversion would raise costs, which would then necessitate a pursuit of
advertising support. "Right now, we'll keep it what it is," he said.
About 51,000 subscribers currently order TCM's guide,
while another 50,000 copies are sent to operators, the press and others.
TCM's on-air branding campaign will continue to
feature Bill Cosby. "He called [the other day]," Karsch said. "He has a
Western idea" for a new spot that Karsch said "will probably shoot in the first
quarter of next year."
Despite his clout as a veteran celebrity endorser, Cosby
doesn't cost TCM big bucks. A fan of the channel, "he still does [the TCM
promos] for scale," Karsch pointed out. "In today's world, that's
On the programming front, TCM will continue offering
periodic specials and documentaries, such as a conversation with Gregory Peck in October,
when he'll be the network's "Star of the Month," and a special on Lon
Chaney, due next year, Karsch said, adding, "We shoot for one high-profile
documentary per quarter."
But there are no plans to produce, say, a behind-the-scenes
series about movies, the way VH1 does with music. That would be "very expensive. We
don't want to churn out glossy biographies without a lot of substance," Karsch
said. "We'd rather keep the costs down for the operator."
So far, TCM has no plans for film noir, Western or other
digital spinoff channels, Karsch said, emphasizing that he would rather concentrate on
building distribution for TCM itself.