Turner CEO John Martin says NBA commissioner is 'best in all sports'

Key Points
  • Turner CEO John Martin praised NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as dodging the kind TV ratings decline plaguing the NFL.
  • Martin also criticized the U.S. government's move to block parent company Time-Warner's sale to AT&T, calling it "clueless."
  • Turner was speaking at the Code Media conference in California.
John Martin, Chairman and CEO Turner Broadcasting.
David Orrell | CNBC

Turner CEO John Martin is gearing up for what he expects to be some pretty huge ratings for the NBA All Star Weekend and March Madness after that.

"Having live video -- whether its news or sports -- there's never been greater interest," said Martin in an interview at Recode's annual Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, California. "And there has never been greater ability to monetize so we are doing great right now and we love the sports we are in and we are really excited."

And despite NFL ratings falling for the second straight season, Martin says the NBA is an entirely different story.

"I think Adam Silver is the best commissioner in all of sports. The way they are harnessing their brand, the match ups we have had this season, the availability of really interesting games and I just think, going into All Star Weekend, there has never been more interest in the NBA than there is now."

At Turner's other big bet on live — CNN — the company is now laying off about 50 employees, despite a so-called "Trump Bump" to ratings. Martin insists the layoffs are a "non-story," saying "we have decided to redirect some of our money to other areas and lighten up some areas that just weren't working." And he says he doubts CNN will be sold or spun off as a condition of parent company Time Warner's sale to AT&T.

And Martin insists AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner should be approved.

"I think the government is reasonably clueless in terms of the case they are trying to make against this merger," Martin says. "In the history of this country there has never been a vertical merger that has been blocked, and there has never been a vertical merger that has gone through that has changed the competitive landscape."

While Time Warner awaits the next step in the lawsuit with the Department of Justice, Martin says they're focused on creating content that can compete in a landscape increasingly crowded with digital rivals like Netflix and Amazon. Martin points to TNT's "The Alienist," which is number one of the 49 dramas that have launched this year.

And Martin cautions his digital rivals, such as Amazon, which has been spending more on content, that their investment won't necessarily lead to success.

"It's not just about spending money, it's about curation and it's about having a connection with a creative community," Martin said. "There has never been more competition in this business than there is today, but all that means for us is that we have to raise the bar of what our own expectations are and I like our ability to win and compete. We have great brands, and great people and making great compelling content is not easy. Because I think people miss that sometimes because doing this and doing this at scale is not easy."