TCM’s Success Under Jennifer Dorian

When you think of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) you might not think innovation or even entertainment depending on your taste… or age. I get it, b&w and silent movies aren’t for everyone. They aren’t super mainstream, and generally don’t compare to a Star Wars type flick with their cult-like following. Well, bear with me as I convince you otherwise.

I recently heard from Jennifer Dorian (@JRDorian), a General Manager at TCM, who completely changed my perspective as she showed me how her team has built a loyal and highly engaged community.

Capitalizing on fan passion is a science, as is matching that passion to brand extensions. From TCM-branded cruises to festivals and wine clubs, they’re catering to their fans using insights and data to build seemingly risky extensions as well as optimizing the portfolio of investments.

Top 5 Takeaways

  1. TCM has become the trusted keeper of the flame for classic movie culture.
  2. TCM has maintained a strong brand for over 21 years, never losing focus of their fans by showcasing uncut video, commercial free, with engaging themes and background content.
  3. 19 Moments You Knew You Were Addicted to TCM: You know you’re staying relevant when Buzzfeed publishes a listicle.
  4. Film Festivals, Cruises, Theater Screenings, Wine Clubs, Twitter Parties…and this is only the beginning. Woah.
  5. Brand perception is high among fans, as TCM is valued in the Top 5 stations that fans consistently want to keep. Fans are quick to provide feedback and work with TCM to perfect the product.

Background: Brief History of Turner Classic Movies

Even if you don’t regularly tune into TCM, you’ve probably heard of the channel or at least flipped over while aimlessly browsing for shows. Well, it’s no mystery why the channel is still alive and kicking thanks to the marketing team driving new ideas and extensions internally at Turner. With a strong brand promise for 21+ years, TCM has never lost focus of their fans by continuing to bring uncut video, commercial free, with curated themes and exciting background conversations through their program hosts. In today’s day and age, this is super impressive.

A little more background: Turner Classic Movies was launched around 22 years ago, April ‘94, a short while after Ted Turner acquired MGM. After the film libraries were compiled, Turner began to distribute the films for release, and ultimately launched the channel on April 14, 1994, 6:00 PM. Interestingly, this exact date was chosen for its entertainment significance as “the exact centennial anniversary of the first public movie showing in New York City.”

TCM has continued to build out licensing deals in Hollywood to expand their movie selection and become the category market leader. Currently, the channel is available in the US, UK, France, Spain, the Nordic, Middle East and Africa. You can read more on TCM’s history on Wikipedia here.

Act I: TCM 411

Jennifer continuously expressed her gratitude for being a part of the TCM team. These self-acclaimed movie nerds genuinely care about the TCM mission and approach their sincerity and optimism. For them, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. They’ve innovated the brand to best-in-class status beginning with an official TCM App, which receives overwhelmingly positive reviews and thousands of downloads (see image below). Integrations in the app as simple as their Now Playing Guide are receiving big praise when it’s really just a simple schedule reformatted and optimized for a quick, mobile experience. app review

TCM houses over 17,000 classic films, the largest collection of old movies. Well, “how do you define a classic?” you might ask. Basically, anything from between 1890-2010 with varying characteristics based on topic, director, style, etc. Let’s leave categorization to the experts.

TCM consistently curates different categories of programming, including the Condemned. This Programming Spotlight, launched February 2016, airs 27 films which were labeled “condemned” or “objectionable” by the Catholic Legion of Decency (Catholic Church). The movies air on Thursday nights and dive into the influence that the powerful Catholic Legion of Decency had on the film industry. Still not interested in any of the programming on TCM? Think again.

Over time, publications such as the New York Times have proven supportive and occasional align their content with that of TCM (the NYTimes even provided a Letter of Recommendation for TCM back in 2015, one of their first ever). Publications like Buzzfeed are also providing earned media with quizzes and “19 moments you knew you were addicted to TCM”–type content.

So, the strategy has remained constant: Continue bringing casual movie lovers over to the classics. The AMC’s and HBO’s of the world are all investing in original content, to increase their ratings, however, TCM has stayed true to their original brand promise and it’s paying off.

Act II: Hardcore TCM

No joke, TCM’s fans are hardcore. So hardcore that they’re right up with Apple (and other leading fan-driven brands) in terms of passion.

Their fans are passionate, social, of all ages, and have accepted TCM as the trusted keeper of the flame for classic movies and the culture. Now with this heavy responsibility, TCM naturally launched a “Fan-thropology study to see what the options were marketing-wise. The TCM Opportunity Map (seen below) highlights different opportunities weighed against the attractiveness and potential fit to their audience.


This sparked the launch of TCM’s Classic Movie Festival, which held the inaugural event in 2010 in Los Angeles. This year marks the 7th consecutive festival, running from April 28 – May 1st, with emotions in the movies (titled “Moving Pictures” as the theme. TCM expects 28,000+ seats to be filled and over 2,000 official badge holders. However, the biggest win may be their press coverage as the festival is held in Los Angeles’ most popular venues including the TCL Chinese Theatre and Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Following TCM’s success in the Film Festival and the notion that their Opportunity Map model was correct, TCM launched the Classic Cruise. Yes, this is a real thing, and to prove it there’s a video below. This activation serves around 2,000+ participants and has been running consistently for six years now. It’s proving profitable and worth investment, so TCM is growing the program and the itinerary continues to expand. They’ve partnered with Disney to use their cruise ships, and head down to the British Virgin Islands this November — Book Now!

Now that you’ve found a cruise you never knew you wanted to go on, let’s move on. Next up, TCM partnered with Fathom Entertainment to do movie screenings of ~75-year-old movies in modern theaters. With flexibility in the P&L to try new things, this resulted in a win/win/win, earning money for TCM, the venues and studios alike.

To no surprise, TCM kept going. Following some research that an average TCM viewer is twice as likely to drink wine, TCM introduced the Wine Club. This Club has taken off in popularity and offers exclusive wines such as the True Grit Limited Edition Zinfandel where TCM works with the vineyards and bottlers to create original wines paired to taste with specific movies.

To continue the brand extensions, TCM created a Film Noir MOOT (Massive Open Online Course) program with over 50 hours of classes on Canvas, for free, and partnered with Ball State University to offer the course there. Only The Walking Dead’s course had a higher completion rate, begging us to ask the question of whether or not TCM could open a for-profit online movie school. Stay tuned!

To get all this done, partners are critical to TCM’s success. For example, Disney for the cruises, Canvas and Ball State for the eClass, and Running Press publishing for books.

Bonus: #TCMParty Twitter Party: Yes, this exists, and people love it!


We wrapped up with Jennifer’s own takeaways and some additional talking points not discussed above.

  1. Be expansive in ideation.
  2. Let the mission guide you.
  3. Prioritize and find partners.
  4. Stick with it, traction takes time.
  5. Your portfolio will continue to build over time.
  6. You will reach unexpected riches; reinvest the riches to your core brand.

Q1: What about the program distributors?
A1: The consumer is always first, not the distributor. Turner feels comfortable taking risks with TCM, and so far they’ve all paid off.

Q2: What about the aging population?
A2: We have cohorts of fans interested in the classics, and for nostalgic reasons. Mostly 55+ and general film enthusiasts. TCM continues to focus on the 55+ as they’re living longer and longer these days (90+) with more time/money to fine dine, relax, and travel.

Q3: How about targeting families?
A3: Co-viewing is the on-ramp for the next generation. This is how people get into TCM, think millennials watching a black & white with their parents. Last year, TCM used a #LetsMovieDayactivation to bring the action to the second and third screens.

Q4: I know you have an app, but what about Video On-Demand?
A4: VOD houses approximately 45% of our movies. The Watch TCM app has around 90% of the movies available. 100 movies a week, changed weekly, keeps the content fresh and engaging!

Hope this changes your perspective of TCM! If not, tune in and see what the experience is like. Keep up the good work, Jennifer & Co. 👏



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