Excerpt of "My Beef with Big Media"
Published in the Washington Monthly, July/August 2004
Also available at http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0407.turner.html
When the U.S. system of broadcasting first developed in the early twentieth century, it was based on the idea that the airwaves belonged to the American people. Broadcasters were allowed to use this public property through a system of licenses. Since the Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), this government agency has issued rules and regulations to guide the broadcasting industry and ensure that it operates in the public interest.
Early on, the FCC decided that the public interest would be best served through diversity in ownership of radio and television stations. The agency placed strict limits on the total number of stations any individual or company could own. It also limited the number of stations that anyone could own in a single community or market. Finally, the FCC restricted cross-ownership of different types of communications media. This restriction meant, for instance, that one company could not own both a TV station and a major newspaper in the same city. The FCC made these rules in order to prevent a few large companies from dominating the flow of news and information. The agency felt that this would benefit the public by exposing people to a wide variety of viewpoints on important issues.
"The FCC says that we have more media choices than ever before. But only a few corporations decide what we can choose. That is not choice."
The FCC has made a number of changes to its media ownership regulations over the years. The agency has changed the rules in response to technological advances affecting the broadcast industry, such as the introduction of cable television systems. It has also made some changes in response to political pressure from industry leaders, various presidents, and Congress. In general, the FCC regulations on media ownership have been relaxed over time to allow individuals and companies to control more media outlets (radio and TV stations, cable TV systems, newspapers, and magazines). The rule changes have contributed to greater consolidation (merging or grouping together) of American broadcasting in the hands of a few large companies.
As of 2005, Viacom was one of the largest media corporations in the world. It held interests in virtually every part of the American communications and entertainment industries. For example, Viacom owned the CBS and UPN broadcast television networks. It also owned numerous popular cable TV channels, including MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Noggin, TNN, BET, Comedy Central, TV Land, and Showtime. Through its Infinity Broadcasting division, Viacom owned more than 180 radio stations in major markets across the United States. It also owned the movie production companies Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks SKG, as well as the television production company King World. Viacom was also the parent company for the book publishers Simon & Schuster and Scribner, and was part-owner of the video game manufacturer Sega. Finally, Viacom operated one of the nation's largest outdoor advertising businesses.
The structure of today's massive media corporations changes frequently, as managers try to respond to new business conditions and government regulations. In December 2005, Viacom decided to split into two separate companies, Viacom Inc. and CBS Corporation. This split effectively undid the 1999 merger between Viacom and CBS. The new CBS Corporation focused on broadcasting. It owned the CBS television and radio networks and the King World television production company. The new Viacom kept its cable TV channels, outdoor advertising business, and movie production companies.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996
A number of media ownership restrictions were reduced or eliminated with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This legislation took away many of the barriers separating different parts of the communications industry—including radio and television broadcasters, cable TV service providers, and long-distance telephone companies—in an attempt to increase competition and stimulate the development of new services. The act also extended the terms of radio and television broadcast licenses from three years to eight years and made it easier for stations to renew their licenses.
The 1996 law also relaxed the limits on ownership of television and radio stations. It eliminated the cap (maximum limit) on the number of television or radio stations one company could own nationwide. It also increased the cap on the portion of the national audience a single broadcast company could serve from 25 percent to 35 percent of the U.S. population.
The effects of the new law could be seen almost immediately in the radio industry. Before the Telecommunications Act of 1996 took effect, a single company could own a maximum of forty radio stations nationwide. After the act passed, radio broadcasting entered a period of rapid consolidation. An amazing 60 percent of radio stations across the country changed owners over the next few years, resulting in the loss of 1,700 independent radio stations. Most of these stations were purchased by four large broadcasting companies. Clear Channel Communications, for instance, grew to own more than 1,200 radio stations in all fifty states, reaching 110 million listeners.
One of the main goals of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was to lower the rates that Americans paid for cable television service. The law was supposed to increase competition, and decrease costs, by allowing companies in other parts of the communications industry to become cable providers. Over the next five years, however, the seven largest cable operators purchased smaller systems until they controlled more than 75 percent of the national market. The consolidation of the cable industry contributed to a 30 percent overall increase in cable rates for consumers during this period.
According to the PBS program NOW with Bill Moyers, North America contains around 2,000 television stations, 11,000 radio stations, 1,800 daily newspapers, 11,000 magazines, and 3,000 book publishers. In 1984, these media outlets were controlled by fifty different companies. By 1996, consolidation had reduced the number of companies that held a controlling interest in these media outlets to ten. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 resulted in even further consolidation. By 2002, most of the thousands of American broadcast and print media sources were controlled by only six large corporations. These major corporations had financial interests in a wide variety of other industries as well, including movies and music, alcoholic beverages, theme parks, professional sports franchises, telephone services, and nuclear power plants.
In 2002, the FCC launched a major review of its media ownership rules. Specifically, the agency considered weakening or eliminating regulations that limited ownership of cable television systems and prohibited cross-ownership of broadcast media and newspapers in the same market. Several large media corporations filed formal requests with the FCC to eliminate all of the remaining ownership rules. These companies claimed that the regulations were outdated and no longer necessary. After all, the FCC had put the rules in place at a time when space on the airwaves was limited, so the government had to limit ownership in order to ensure diversity in broadcasting. But the media giants argued that this was no longer a problem in the age of cable TV and the Internet, which gave the American people access to news and information from a wide variety of sources. In this new competitive atmosphere, they claimed that it was not possible for any one company to dominate the flow of information.
There is no question that it makes good business sense for large media companies to be involved in all aspects of mass communications. It is much easier and less expensive for the big corporations to control all aspects of television broadcasting, for instance, rather than contracting with separate, independent companies to produce programs and operate local TV stations. The media giants had such a strong financial interest in eliminating FCC ownership rules, in fact, that the broadcast industry spent nearly $250 million lobbying (working to persuade) the federal government between 1998 and 2004.
But opponents of media consolidation have a number of reasons to think that further deregulation (reduction or elimination of rules) of ownership is a bad idea. While critics admit that advances in technology have created new sources of news and information, they claim that most of these sources are controlled by the same handful of giant corporations. They point out that the desire to earn profits in one area of the business might create a conflict with these corporations' duty to provide fair and unbiased TV news coverage. For example, a network news program might be tempted to downplay its coverage of safety problems in a product manufactured by another division of its parent company. The media giants might also tend to provide more favorable coverage to the government in order to convince the president and members of Congress to support their efforts at deregulation. In general, the critics worried that media consolidation would create a situation in which the media would be used to serve corporate interests rather than the public interest.
In June 2003, the FCC announced the results of its review. The agency decided to increase the audience-reach cap for broadcasters to 45 percent of the U.S. population. It also decided to ease the restrictions on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership. These changes pleased many people in the broadcast industry, but they ran into a great deal of opposition from Congress and various consumer groups. In fact, the FCC received two million letters and electronic mail messages opposing the rule changes. One opposition group filed a lawsuit to prevent the changes from taking effect, and in September 2003 a federal court ruled in the group's favor and ordered the FCC to start the review process over again. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the broadcast industry's appeal in the case, it was considered an important victory for consumer groups and a blow to the large media corporations.
Ted Turner speaks out
One high-profile opponent of the FCC's proposed rule changes was Ted Turner, who made a name for himself in broadcasting by forming some of the first national cable TV networks and offering innovative cable programming. Born in 1938, Turner started his career by working in his father's billboard advertising business. After purchasing several radio stations in the late 1960s, Turner bought his first television station in 1970. This station, WTCG in Atlanta, was located at Channel 17 on the lesser quality UHF portion of the broadcast spectrum. At that time, stations affiliated with the Big Three national broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) occupied the scarce VHF channels in nearly every important television market. But Turner disliked network programming and believed that independent stations could succeed by providing more wholesome options. He began showing old movies, cartoons, and sporting events to give viewers an alternative to the network offerings.
In 1976, Turner turned his small, independent station into a national cable network by arranging to deliver his signal to cable systems across the country via satellite. He changed his call letters to WTBS (for Turner Broadcasting System) and referred to it as a "Superstation." He soon convinced a number of national advertisers to begin placing their commercials on his cable network.
In 1980, Turner launched the Cable News Network (CNN) to provide viewers with news and information twenty-four hours per day. When promoting the new network, he claimed that he wanted to provide the American people with a source of news that was independent of the powerful broadcast networks. "Back in the Dark Ages, only the church and politicians had knowledge, and the people were kept in the dark," he declared in Ken Auletta's biography Media Man. "Information is power. I see CNN as the democratization of information."
The broadcast networks criticized CNN's low-budget production methods and called it the "Chicken Noodle Network." At first it appeared that CNN would be a short-lived experiment, as the network lost $20 million in its first year. But Turner's all-news format gradually attracted viewers and became profitable. It moved to the forefront of international news coverage during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when CNN reporters provided live coverage of U.S.-led bombing raids from a hotel balcony in downtown Baghdad, Iraq. CNN thus launched a revolution in up-to-the-minute television news coverage.
After the 2003 court ruling that forced the FCC to reconsider its media ownership rule changes, Turner began speaking out against further consolidation of the American media. He expressed his opinion in speeches and in articles for major newspapers and magazines. One of these articles, "My Beef with Big Media," is excerpted below.
Turner starts out by talking about his early career in television broadcasting, when he created Superstation TBS and CNN. He acknowledges that some FCC regulations helped him, as an independent broadcaster, compete with the established broadcast networks. For instance, the All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962 required all new television sets sold in the United States to be equipped to receive UHF channels. Before this time, viewers had to purchase a separate tuner to receive these weaker channels. This rule change made it possible for more viewers to watch Turner's Atlanta-based UHF station. In 1972, the FCC issued another ruling that allowed cable TV operators to give their customers access to TV channels that originated in other cities. Before this time, cable providers could only retransmit the signals from local TV stations. This ruling aided the growth of cable television and allowed Turner to offer a wider variety of programs on TBS.
But Turner also argues that more recent FCC rule changes regarding station ownership have allowed too much media consolidation. He claims that a handful of large companies own most sources of information in the United States, including broadcast and cable networks, local TV stations, production companies that create TV programs, cable service providers, and book publishers. He says that this type of consolidation is harmful to broadcasting because it reduces the level of risk taking and the development of new ideas. He also claims that media consolidation has had a negative impact on the quality of television news. Turner acknowledges that his company, Turner Broadcasting, was big enough to benefit from some of the ownership rule changes. But he concludes by encouraging readers to urge the government to prevent further consolidation and break up some of the largest media corporations.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt of "My Beef with Big Media":
- In 1986, Turner took advantage of relaxed media ownership rules to purchase MGM—a major movie production company with a huge film library—in order to gain access to content for his cable TV networks. In 1995, however, media consolidation forced him to sell Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner Inc. He became vice chairman of Time Warner's board of directors and head of its cable TV networks division. In 2001, Time Warner merged with the Internet service provider America Online (AOL) to become AOL Time Warner. A short time later, Turner fell out of favor with corporate management. He resigned from his position as vice chairman in 2003, and in 2006 he announced that he would no longer serve on the AOL Time Warner board of directors. These experiences may have influenced his opinions on the subject of media consolidation.
- Turner blames media consolidation for the declining quality of American journalism. But some critics hold CNN partly responsible for the decline in TV news. They claim that the need to provide round-the-clock news pushed the American media toward sensational "tabloid journalism," which emphasized sleazy, celebrity-centered stories instead of important, but more complex, national and international news events.
Excerpt of "My Beef with Big Media"
In the late 1960s, when Turner Communications was a business of billboards and radio stations and I was spending much of my energy ocean racing [in sailboats], a UHF-TV station came up for sale in Atlanta. It was losing $50,000 a month and its programs were viewed by fewer than 5 percent of the market.
I acquired it.
When I moved to buy a second station in Charlotte [North Carolina]—this one worse than the first—my accountant quit in protest, and the company's board [of directors] vetoed the deal. So I mortgaged my house and bought it myself. The Atlanta purchase turned into the Superstation; the Charlotte purchase—when I sold it 10 years later—gave me the capital to launch CNN.
Both purchases played a role in revolutionizing television. Both required a streak of independence and a taste for risk. And neither could happen today. In the current climate of consolidation, independent broadcasters simply don't survive for long. That's why we haven't seen a new generation of people like me or even Rupert Murdoch —independent television upstarts who challenge the big boys and force the whole industry to compete and change.
It's not that there aren't entrepreneurs eager to make their names and fortunes in broadcasting if given the chance. If nothing else, the 1990s dotcom boom showed that the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in America, with plenty of investors willing to put real money into new media ventures. The difference is that [the U.S. government in] Washington has changed the rules of the game. When I was getting into the television business, lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took seriously the commission's mandate to promote diversity, localism, and competition in the media marketplace. They wanted to make sure that the big, established networks—CBS, ABC, NBC—wouldn't forever dominate what the American public could watch on TV. They wanted independent producers to thrive. They wanted more people to be able to own TV stations. They believed in the value of competition.
So when the FCC received a glut of applications for new television stations after World War II, the agency set aside dozens of channels on the new UHF spectrum so independents could get a foothold in television. That helped me get my start 35 years ago. Congress also passed a law in 1962 requiring that TVs be equipped to receive both UHF and VHF channels. That's how I was able to compete as a UHF station, although it was never easy. (I used to tell potential advertisers that our UHF viewers were smarter than the rest, because you had to be a genius just to figure out how to tune us in.) And in 1972, the FCC ruled that cable TV operators could import distant signals. That's how we were able to beam our Atlanta station to homes throughout the South. Five years later, with the help of an RCA satellite, we were sending our signal across the nation, and the Super-station was born.
That was then.
Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox—fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged [grown suddenly] to 77.5 percent.
In this environment, most independent media firms either get gobbled up by one of the big companies or driven out of business altogether. Yet instead of balancing the rules to give independent broadcasters a fair chance in the market, Washington continues to tilt the playing field to favor the biggest players. Last summer, the FCC passed another round of sweeping pro-consolidation rules that, among other things, further raised the cap on the number of TV stations a company can own.
In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys—they have to innovate, so they're less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It's called capitalism.
But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what's happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap—even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they're afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.
Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see [on television]—and what we don't see—will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life. Let me be clear: As a business proposition, consolidation makes sense. The moguls behind the mergers are acting in their corporate interests and playing by the rules. We just shouldn't have those rules. They make sense for a corporation. But for a society, it's like over-fishing the oceans. When the independent businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? We have to do more than keep media giants from growing larger; they're already too big. We need a new set of rules that will break these huge companies to pieces.
The Big Squeeze
In the 1970s, I became convinced that a 24-hour all-news network could make money, and perhaps even change the world. But when I invited two large media corporations to invest in the launch of CNN, they turned me down. I couldn't believe it. Together we could have launched the network for a fraction of what it would have taken me alone; they had all the infrastructure, contacts, experience, knowledge. When no one would go in with me, I risked my personal wealth to start CNN. Soon after our launch in 1980, our expenses were twice what we had expected and revenues half what we had projected. Our losses were so high that our loans were called in. I refinanced at 18 percent interest, up from 9, and stayed just a step ahead of the bankers. Eventually, we not only became profitable, but also changed the nature of news—from watching something that happened to watching it as it happened.
But even as CNN was getting its start, the climate for independent broadcasting was turning hostile. This trend began in 1984, when the FCC raised the number of stations a single entity could own from seven—where it had been capped since the 1950s—to 12. A year later, it revised its rule again, adding a national audience-reach cap of 25 percent to the 12 station limit—meaning media companies were prohibited from owning TV stations that together reached more than 25 percent of the national audience. In 1996, the FCC did away with numerical caps altogether and raised the audience-reach cap to 35 percent. This wasn't necessarily bad for Turner Broadcasting; we had already achieved scale. But seeing these rules changed was like watching someone knock down the ladder I had already climbed….
Today, the only way for media companies to survive is to own everything up and down the media chain—from broadcast and cable networks to the sitcoms, movies, and news broadcasts you see on those stations; to the production studios that make them; to the cable, satellite, and broadcast systems that bring the programs to your television set; to the Web sites you visit to read about those programs; to the way you log on to the Internet to view those pages. Big media today wants to own the faucet, pipeline, water, and the reservoir. The rain clouds come next….
The FCC says that we have more media choices than ever before. But only a few corporations decide what we can choose. That is not choice. That's like a dictator deciding what candidates are allowed to stand for parliamentary elections, and then claiming that the people choose their leaders. Different voices do not mean different viewpoints, and these huge corporations all have the same viewpoint—they want to shape government policy in a way that helps them maximize profits, drive out competition, and keep getting bigger….
A few media conglomerates now exercise a near-monopoly over television news. There is always a risk that news organizations can emphasize or ignore stories to serve their corporate purpose. But the risk is far greater when there are no independent competitors to air the side of the story the corporation wants to ignore. More consolidation has often meant more news-sharing. But closing bureaus and downsizing staff have more than economic consequences. A smaller press is less capable of holding our leaders accountable ….
Naturally, corporations say they would never suppress speech. But it's not their intentions that matter; it's their capabilities. Consolidation gives them more power to tilt the news and cut important ideas out of the public debate. And it's precisely that power that the rules should prevent.
This is a fight about freedom—the freedom of independent entrepreneurs to start and run a media business, and the freedom of citizens to get news, information, and entertainment from a wide variety of sources, at least some of which are truly independent and not run by people facing the pressure of quarterly earnings reports. No one should underestimate the danger. Big media companies want to eliminate all ownership limits. With the removal of these limits, immense media power will pass into the hands of a very few corporations and individuals.
What will programming be like when it's produced for no other purpose than profit? What will news be like when there are no independent news organizations to go after stories the big corporations avoid? Who really wants to find out? Safeguarding the welfare of the public cannot be the first concern of a large publicly traded media company. Its job is to seek profits. But if the government writes the rules in a way that encourages the entry into the market of entrepreneurs—men and women with big dreams, new ideas, and a willingness to take long-term risks—the economy will be stronger, and the country will be better off.
What happened next …
The issue of media consolidation continued to generate debate after Turner wrote his article. After completing its court-ordered review, the FCC planned to propose a new set of media ownership regulations in the fall of 2006.
Did you know …
- In September 2002, the FCC announced that it would conduct a major review of media ownership rules. According to a PBS survey, the only network television news program to cover the announcement was ABC's World News This Morning, which aired a three-sentence report at 4:40 a.m. Opponents of media consolidation pointed to the lack of coverage as evidence that the large media corporations did not want the public to know about their efforts to eliminate all restrictions on media ownership. As former FCC chairman Reed Hundt noted in a panel discussion covered by the Freedom Forum, "It's not clear to me that the media is going to lead a reasonable debate about the consolidation of the media."
- In early 2003, President George W Bush prepared to launch a U.S. military invasion of the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq. He said that the attack was necessary to prevent Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from providing weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. In an effort to gain international support for a war against Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations in early February. Powell presented evidence that he said proved Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons. He also suggested that a link existed between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. The media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) conducted a survey of media coverage of the Iraq situation during the week before and the week after Powell's presentation. FAIR found that only 3 out of 393 interviews that aired on the ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS television networks during this period were with people who opposed starting a war with Iraq. Critics claimed that television news slanted its coverage to support the president's position on the issue. "These are not media that are serving a democratic society, where a diversity of views is vital to shaping informed opinions," Amy Goodman and David Goodman wrote in the Seattle Times.
- Ted Turner has an amazingly varied list of lifetime achievements. For example, he is an accomplished sailor who won the America's Cup—the most prestigious yacht-racing event in the world—in 1977. He is also known as a successful owner of professional sports teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and the Atlanta Braves baseball team, as well as the World Championship Wrestling series. Finally, Turner owns approximately 200 million acres of land in six western states, making him the largest private landowner in America. He maintains a herd of 40,000 bison on his property and runs a chain of restaurants featuring bison meat.
Consider the following …
- Visit the Web site for a large U.S. media corporation—such as Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Seagram, News Corporation, Sony, General Electric, or AT&T—and find a list of all of the media outlets it owns. Do you think that the public interest is best served by allowing these companies to control so many media outlets? Keep in mind that the public also includes people who work for and hold stock in these corporations.
- Research the ownership of a local television station or your favorite cable television channel. Is it connected to one of the large U.S. media corporations? What other media outlets does its parent company own? What similarities or differences do you notice in the way that these media outlets present information?
- Make lists of the potential problems and benefits associated with allowing one company to own television stations, radio stations, and daily newspapers in the same city. If you were an FCC commissioner, what action would you support regarding cross-ownership of broadcast and print media outlets?
For More Information
Auletta, Ken. Media Man: Ted Turner's Improbable Empire. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
McChesney, Robert W. Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communications Politics in Dubious Times. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Davies, Jennifer. "FCC Chief Calls for New Approach to Telecommunications Regulation." Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, December 10, 2003.
Goodman, Amy, and David Goodman. "Why Media Ownership Matters." Seattle Times, April 3, 2005.
Miller, Mark Crispin. "What's Wrong with This Picture?" Nation, January 7, 2002.
Turner, Ted. "Monopoly or Democracy?" Washington Post, May 30, 2003.
Turner, Ted. "My Beef with Big Media" Washington Monthly, July/August 2004.
"Big Media: Media Regulation Timeline." NOW with Bill Moyers, January 30, 2004. http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/mediatimeline.html (accessed on July 31, 2006).
"FCC Consumer Facts: Review of the Broadcast Ownership Rules." Federal Communications Commission, December 1, 2005. http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/reviewrules.html (accessed on July 31, 2006).
Finney, Robert. "Ownership: U.S. Regulatory Patterns." Museum of Broadcast Communications. http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/O/htmlO/ownership/ownership.htm (accessed on July 31, 2006).
"Guide to FCC Rules on Media Ownership." Center for Digital Democracy. http://www.democraticmedia.org/issues/mediaownership/chart.html (accessed on July 31, 2006).
"Massive Media." NOW with Bill Moyers, April 26, 2002. http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/media.html (accessed on July 31, 2006).
"Speaking with One Voice: Does Media Cross-Ownership Stifle Diversity?" Freedom Forum Online, December 15, 2000. http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=3183 (accessed on July 31, 2006).
Stohr, Greg. "Media Industry Rejected by Top U.S. Court on Station Ownership." Bloomberg.com, June 13, 2005. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000087&sid=abgsaV4QV41c&refer=top_world_news (accessed on July 31, 2006).
Vetoed: Refused to approve.
Mortgaged: Borrowed money against.
Rupert Murdoch: (1931–) Australian businessman who launched the Fox network.
Upstarts: People who rise suddenly from a low position to one of power.
Entrepreneurs: People who start their own businesses.
Dot-com boom: A period when people rushed to create new Internet-based businesses, known as "dotcom" businesses after the extension ".com" used for commercial Web sites.
Localism: Attention to local and community issues.
Foothold: Starting point.
Import: Receive from other places and send to local areas.
RCA: Radio Corporation of America, one of the early manufacturers of broadcasting equipment.
Concentrated: Gathered closely into one large group.
Tilt the playing field: Change conditions to give an advantage to one side.
Innovate: Be creative; come up with new ideas.
Market share: The percentage of total customers served by each business within an industry.
Capitalism: An economic system in which private businesses compete against one another in a free market.
Oligopolies: Economic systems in which a few large businesses control the market.
Risk-averse: Unwilling or afraid to take risks or be exposed to dangerous situations.
Counter: Against or opposite.
Averse: Resistent to; likely to avoid.
Publicly traded: A business that sells shares of ownership to the public on the stock market.
Conglomerates: Very large corporations involved in a variety of businesses.
Moguls: Wealthy and powerful individuals.
Over-fishing the oceans: Catching so many fish that they all disappear; using up a resource.
Infrastructure: Basic equipment or framework.
Called in: Canceled; had to be repaid immediately.
Refinanced: Borrowed more money from someone else.
Entity: Individual or company.
Audience-reach cap: Upper limit on the percentage of American viewers one owner's TV stations could serve.
Achieved scale: Grown large enough to compete.
Dictator: Ruler who holds absolute power.
Monopoly: Complete control over all business within an industry.
News-sharing: A situation where print and broadcast news organizations use the same group of reporters in order to save money.
Bureaus: Branch offices of news organizations located in major cities.
Downsizing: Reducing; laying off.
Accountable: Responsible for their actions.
Quarterly earnings reports: Financial information that public companies release four times per year.
Turner, Ted 1938–
Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative; former president and chairman of the board, Turner Broadcasting System; former president, Atlanta Braves; former chairman of the board, Atlanta Hawks
Education: Attended Brown University, 1956–1959.
Family: Son of Robert Edward Turner Jr. and Florence (Rooney) Turner; married Judy Gale Nye, 1960 (divorced, 1962); married Jane Shirley Smith, 1964 (divorced, 1988); married Jane Fonda, 1991 (divorced, 2001); children: five (first marriage, two; second marriage, three).
Career: Turner Advertising Company, 1960–1962, branch manager; 1962–1963, assistant general manager; 1963–1970, president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board; Turner Broadcasting System, 1970–1996, president and chairman of the board; Atlanta Braves, 1976–2003, president; Atlanta Hawks, 1977–2003, chairman of the board; Time Warner, 1996–2001, vice chairman of the board; AOL Time Warner, 2001–2003, vice chairman of the board.
Awards: Regional Employer of the Year, Atlanta Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1976; President's Award, National Cable Television Association, 1979; Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year, Sales Marketing and Management magazine, 1979; Hall of Fame inductee, Promotion and Marketing Association, 1980; Salesman of the Year, Sales and Marketing Executives, 1980; Private Enterprise Exemplar Medal, Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, 1980; Ace Special Recognition Award, National Cable Television Association, 1980; Communicator of the Year, Public Relations Society of America, 1981; Communicator of the Year, New York Broadcasters, 1981; International Communicator of the Year, Sales and Marketing Executives, 1981; National News Media Award, Veterans of Foreign Wars, 1981; Distinguished Service in Telecommunications Award, Ohio University College of Communications, 1982; Carr Van Anda Award, Ohio
University School of Journalism, 1982; Special Award, Edinburgh International Television Festival, 1982; Media Awareness Award, United Vietnam Veterans, 1983; Special Olympics Award, Special Olympics Committee, 1983; World Telecommunications Pioneer Award, New York State Broadcasters Association, 1984; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1984; Outstanding Supporter Award, National Boy Scout Council, 1984; Distinguished Achievement Award, University of Georgia, 1985; Lifetime Achievement Award, New York International Film and Television Festival, 1984; Tree of Life Award, Jewish National Fund, 1985; Hall of Fame inductee, National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1986; Life Achievement Award, Popular Culture Association, 1986; Golden Ace Award, National Cable Television Academy, 1987; Sol Taishoff Award, National Press Foundation, 1988; Citizen Diplomat Award, Center for Soviet-American Dialogue, 1988; President's Award, National Cable Television Association, 1989; Paul White Award, Radio and Television News Directors Association, 1989; Business Marketer of the Year, American Marketing Association, 1989; Distinguished Service Award, Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1990; Man of the Year, Time magazine, 1991.
Publications: The Racing Edge (with Gary L. Jobson), 1979; Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way (with Christian Williams), 1981; Ted Turner Speaks: Insights from the World's Greatest Maverick (with Janet Lowe), 1999.
Address: Nuclear Threat Initiative, 1747 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20006; http://www.nti.org.
■ Few business leaders have been as eccentric and unpredictable as Robert Edward (Ted) Turner III. He took pleasure in choosing goals that seemed impossible to achieve. He created the first "superstation" television station, WTBS, which broadcast nationwide through a network of local cable television operators. He invented live television broadcasting of news events as they happened. In addition to making himself one of the world's foremost businessmen, he became the dominant figure in sailboat racing, winning an unprecedented number of ocean sailing events. He did this despite a severe mental handicap and a tendency to be tactless on any occasion, which earned him the enduring nickname of the "Mouth of the South."
REJECTION AND ABUSE
Turner's father, Robert Edward (Ed) Turner Jr. made a fortune in billboard advertising. He may have suffered from bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression, a disease of mood swings from mania to depression that makes it difficult for sufferers to form close personal relationships. Ed abused his son with severe, often unmotivated beatings using coat hangers and straps.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Ed enlisted in the navy and was posted to bases along the Gulf Coast. He took his wife and daughter with him but left his son, Ted, behind in a Cincinnati boarding school. Isolating his son from his family would become a pattern for Ed. In 1947 Ed moved his family to Savannah, Georgia, where he purchased a billboard advertising company. Ted was placed in the Georgia Military Academy near Atlanta.
In a rare moment of generosity, Ed gave his son a Penguin sailing dinghy in 1949. One of the family's African American domestics, Jimmy Brown, taught Ted how to sail and would become the man Ted regarded throughout his life as his true father. In September 1950 Ted was sent to McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Considered an elite boarding school, McCallie included military training and discipline in its curriculum. Ted immediately set about breaking rules. For every demerit a student earned, he was to walk a quarter mile on a weekend, but Ted racked up so many demerits—1,000—that he could not have possibly walked the required miles, and the school had to find new ways to punish students. Eventually, Ted advanced from troublemaker to student leader at McCallie.
Ted wanted to attend the United States Naval Academy, but his father demanded that he attend Harvard. A "C" student, Turner was rejected by Harvard, but Brown University accepted him in 1956. Ed's pleasure in his son's attending an Ivy League school turned to rage when he learned that Ted, who loved reading, planned to major in the classics. In 1959 Ted's parents divorced, and Ted was expelled from Brown for having a woman visit him in his room.
On June 23, 1960, Ted married Judy Gale Nye, a young woman he had met while pursuing his passion for sailing. She proved to be his match as a sailor and was tough and outspoken, but the marriage became a rivalry so intense that Ted once rammed her boat during a race to prevent her from beating him. The couple divorced in 1962.
In 1960 Ed made his son branch manager at Turner Advertising's office in Macon, Georgia. Ted's skills in sales more than doubled the office's revenue in a year, and in 1962 he became assistant manager of the Atlanta branch. As Ted proceeded to increase the company's customer base in Atlanta, Ed continually expanded Turner Advertising, eventually buying out a competitor. However, the buyout generated a significant amount of debt, making Ed fearful of going bankrupt. On March 5, 1963, seemingly in good spirits, he had a pleasant breakfast and then went into the bathroom and shot himself in the head.
After his father's death, Ted Turner became president and chief executive officer of Turner Advertising. The suicide also left him without the person he most wanted to impress with his success and a feeling that he might someday emulate his father's death. Turner immediately fought to retain his father's company intact, fighting efforts to buy pieces of it. With brilliant salesmanship he expanded Turner Advertising's clientele, thereby bringing in enough money to pay debts and stabilize the company's finances. On June 2, 1964, Turner married Jane Shirley Smith. Almost from the start, the marriage was unhappy, with Turner's compulsive womanizing a torment to his wife. He plunged himself into work and sailboat racing, winning many tournaments.
By 1970 Turner owned the largest advertising company in the southeast, but he worried about inroads into the billboard business made by radio and television. That year he made one of his typical leaps of faith by buying the Atlanta UHF television station WJRJ, which had lost $800,000 in 1969. Turner renamed his company Turner Communications Group and the station to WTCG. Six months later he bought the Charlotte, North Carolina, UHF station WRET, which was also losing money.
In 1971 WTCG lost $500,000, but Turner started buying old black-and-white motion pictures, adding them to the station's programming and increasing its viewership. Because Turner bought the movies outright, he could show them endlessly without paying royalties. In 1972 WTCG broke even. That year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed its regulations to allow cable television services to import signals from distant stations, and WTCG began using microwave transmissions and relays to send its signal to cable television operators. WTCG became a moneymaker, netting $1 million in 1973.
On December 2, 1975, RCA's SATCOM II communications satellite was launched, and Turner immediately rented a channel on it. He had a huge broadcasting dish erected in a small hollow in Georgia to send WTCG's signal to the satellite, from which it was beamed to cable television stations throughout the United States, mostly in isolated, rural areas. On January 6, 1976, Turner made a surprise bid for and bought the Atlanta Braves major league baseball team, which was losing money and was probably headed for another city. At the same time, Turner hired satellite expert Ed Taylor, a vice president at Western Union, to oversee his satellite operations. When FCC rules forbade Turner to own a station and the service that sent its signal to cable operators, he created Southern Satellite, which he then sold to Taylor for one dollar (eventually making Taylor very rich), and on December 27, 1976, the FCC approved Southern Satellite as a common carrier. Turner renamed WTCG to WTBS (for Turner Broadcasting System) and began broadcasting motion pictures and, in 1977, Atlanta Braves games all over the United States. This made WTBS the first superstation—a station that reached a large audience outside its home region. By 1978 WTBS reached more than 2 million homes.
Late in 1976 Turner bought 95 percent of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, and he created Turner Enterprises to look after his land holdings. In addition, he announced he was going to sign the left fielder Gary Matthews to the Atlanta Braves, taking the player from the San Francisco Giants in violation of a rule against tampering with another team's personnel. Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn threatened to suspend Turner, and he spent much of baseball's winter meetings seemingly drunk out of his mind and threatening to kill Kuhn. Eventually, two of Turner's company officers had to drag Turner out of harm's way, and Kuhn suspended him for the entire 1977 season.
He took advantage of the time away from his baseball team by entering the 1977 America's Cup race. In a dramatic series of contests in mild weather, his outdated yacht Courageous defeated its competition with clever, bold tacking to win the right to defend the America's Cup against the world's challenger. In somewhat less calm weather, Turner and a crew comprising veterans in their fifties and young men won the America's Cup. Turner was too drunk to stand up during the victory celebration and was remembered for falling from his seat to the floor during presentations of the competition's awards.
Turner's greatest feat of sailing was probably in the August 1979 Fastnet race. This venerable competition required boats to sail 605 nautical miles from Plymouth, England, around Fastnet Rock near the coast of Ireland, and back to Plymouth. In 1979 a terrible storm hit; only 92 of the 302 boats that started finished the race. Twenty-two lives were lost, and many more were injured. Turner's attitude was one of win or die, and he kept his boat Tenacious at full sail even as other boats were flipped over by the gale-force winds. Tenacious itself seemed swamped at one time, but Turner refused to abandon ship. The Tenacious won one of the deadliest sailboat races in history.
In June 1980 Turner sold WRET for $20 million to help finance his latest idea, an all-news cable network. He launched the Cable News Network (CNN) to mostly negative press. Most journalists believed that no one wanted to watch news all day, a view with which the major networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, agreed. Further, the prevailing view was that covering news for television required spending a huge amount of money that only the major networks could afford to spend. CNN originally included many long feature stories into its mix of news coverage, and it received some criticism for covering too much soft news—that is, news without much presentation of data. On January 1, 1982, Turner responded to this with CNN II, also called Headline News, which repeated the top stories of the day every half hour.
CNN did not make a profit until 1985, but by then it was evident that the bottom line did not motivate Turner as much as his unrelenting desire to be the first to do something. Nonetheless, wealth seemed to flow to him. In 1985 he launched CNN International, offering his broadcast services to cable and satellite television services around the world, and he founded a companion network, CNNRadio. In an effort to put some of his social ideas to work, he founded and funded the Better World Society, through which he advocated disarmament of nuclear weapons, environmental protection, and peaceful international relations. In that year his wife persuaded him to see psychiatrist Dr. Frank Pittman, who diagnosed Turner as having bipolar disorder and put Turner on heavy doses of lithium to try to control the disease. After several months Turner's colleagues noted improvement in his behavior, although Turner never completely let go of some of his wild impulses.
In 1986 CNN introduced flyaway dishes—satellite dishes that could be folded up for transport in aircraft or trucks and then set up anywhere—allowing CNN reporters to broadcast from anywhere in the world in real time, with no delays between when events occurred and when television viewers could see them. Turner tried to buy CBS, but CBS's management successfully fought him off with a harsh negative publicity campaign. On March 25, 1986, Turner gave up his effort to buy CBS and instead purchased MGM Entertainment Company, including United Artists (MGM/UA), from Kirk Kerkorian for $1.6 billion, acquiring 3,650 motion pictures, including popular classics such as Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane (Turner's favorite), and Casablanca. Lacking the financing to hold MGM/UA together, he retained all the rights to the motion pictures while selling everything else back to Kerkorian, losing $100 million on the deal and generating much negative press about the bad deal he had made. However, that year alone, he made $125 million in revenue from the old MGM motion pictures.
Next, hoping to buy the broadcasting rights to the 1988 Olympics, he approached the Soviet Union to become partners with WTBS in purchasing the world broadcasting rights. The Soviet Union turned down that offer but joined Turner in creating the Goodwill Games, an opportunity for the world's athletes to measure themselves against each other in a non-Olympic year. The first Goodwill Games were held in Moscow in 1986, and Turner lost $26 million on the venture.
In 1987 Turner began colorizing MGM black-and-white motion pictures, generating protests from film critics and filmmakers. Eventually, Turner made millions of dollars from colorizing old favorites such as Miracle on 34th Street, and he applied the technology to Gone with the Wind to bring back the vibrant colors that had faded on the original print. In 1988 he expanded his cable network empire by creating Turner Network Television, which quickly became a staple of cable offerings. That year he and his second wife divorced.
In 1989, as Communism waned, more than a million young Chinese filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square, calling for a democratic government. On May 20 that year the Chinese army, led by tanks, plowed into the square, killing thousands of young people. CNN covered the event live, showing everything exactly as it happened. It marked a revolutionary moment in broadcasting that not only made people immediately aware of faraway events but also made CNN indispensable for governments everywhere. Direct feeds were installed in government buildings and embassies. The CNN crew was even able to broadcast Chinese officials shutting down CNN's broadcasting site, up to the moment of ending transmission.
In 1990 the Goodwill Games were staged in Seattle, and Turner lost $44 million on them. In 1991 he was named Time magazine's Man of the Year for his influence on broadcast communications. He purchased the cartoon collection of Hanna-Barbera, consisting of more than 8,500 cartoons, and used them to help launch his Cartoon Network in 1992. In addition, he closed the Better World Society and created the Turner Family Foundation, which gave away $10 million in 1992. Amidst this flurry of activity, he started dating Jane Fonda in 1991 and married her on December 21, 1991.
TED AND JANE
Few relationships elicited more press coverage than the marriage of Turner and Fonda, two wounded but domineering personalities. Fonda found in Turner a man who paid attention to her, who gave her respect and romance. Turner thought Fonda cute and found in her an intelligence equal to his own—an irresistibly challenging woman. They attended Atlanta Braves games, giving photographers indelible images such as Turner asleep, head on Fonda's shoulder as his team rallied in the World Series, and Fonda doing the tomahawk chop during Braves rallies.
In 1993 Turner Broadcasting System bought Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, expanding the company's motion picture holdings and its production capacity with new studios. In 1994 Turner founded the cable channel Turner Classic Movies, taking advantage of his huge film library. The Goodwill Games were held in St. Petersburg, Russia; Turner lost $40 million on them. By this time his attention was turning away from business toward social causes, particularly environmentalism.
By 1996 he owned more than one million acres of land in the United States and Argentina, becoming America's second largest landowner. In Montana he bought thousands of acres and started returning the land to the state it was in 200 years earlier, including introducing a herd of bison. In 1996 Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner, with Turner becoming vice chairman of the board of Time Warner, running all of the company's cable and production operations. He was the company's largest shareholder with 11 percent of its stock. He had long wished to found an all-sports network, and in late 1996 began CNNSI (combining CNN and Time Warner's publication, Sports Illustrated ).
His fortune grew by $1 billion in nine months, and in accordance with his impulsive style, he pledged it to humanitarian services of the United Nations, at the rate of $100 million per year for ten years. On March 17, 1997, he launched CNN en Español, an all-Spanish cable channel. In 1999 Time Warner paid Turner $700,000 in salary and a $6.9 million bonus, as well as stock options.
Turner detested Christianity and often made fun of it, a result of witnessing the horribly agonizing death of one of his sisters when he was young. When Fonda became a born-again Christian in the late 1990s, Turner was outraged because they had never discussed her conversion before it happened; she had worried that the brilliantly persuasive Turner would talk her out of it. The couple divorced in 2001. On January 8, 2001, Turner and former United States Senator Sam Nunn launched the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization dedicated to lessening the dangers of nuclear and other weapons. That year Time Warner merged with AOL to become AOL Time Warner. AOL was in dire financial straits, costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Even after dropping AOL from the company's name, Turner saw his stock value drop $7 billion. In 2002 Turner helped organize the firing of the company's chairman, Steve Case, but he was not named to replace Case as he had hoped. In late January 2003 he resigned his vice chairmanship.
See also entries on Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and Time Warner Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Bibb, Porter, It Ain't as Easy as It Looks: Ted Turner's Amazing Story, New York: Crown, 1993.
Landrum, Gene N., Profiles of Genius: Thirteen Creative Men Who Changed the World, Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993.
—Kirk H. Beetz
BORN: November 19, 1938 • Cincinnati, Ohio
American television executive
Ted Turner is one of the most influential forces in the development of modern cable television. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, Turner went from being the head of a failing billboard company to being one of the best-known television executives in the world. He founded the first cable superstation to broadcast programs across the country via satellite. He also pioneered the concept of a twenty-four-hour, all-news cable network. His creation, CNN, completely changed U.S. news broadcasting. Turner's bold willingness to invest in his own vision in the face of doubt and ridicule made him a billionaire and secured his place in television history.
"All my big competitors were like a pack of wolves, and they were all chasing me, but I was fast enough to be out in front of them."
A rebellious childhood
Robert Edward Turner III, known from childhood by the nickname Ted, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 19, 1938. His parents were Florence and Ed Turner. When Ted was nine years old, the family moved to the city of Savannah, on the Atlantic Coast of Georgia, where Ed Turner ran a thriving billboard business called Turner Advertising. Ed Turner was an alcoholic who also suffered from mental health problems. He was a harsh and controlling man who dominated his children and his timid wife. But his father's nature only brought out the rebellious spirit in young Ted, who often pulled pranks and did small acts of vandalism that earned him beatings from his father.
As a boy, Turner was small and thin and not well suited for athletics. At the age of eleven, he took up competitive sailing, because the sport rewarded quick wits rather than physical size and strength. Turner competed in sailing races and excelled at the sport. He also did surprisingly well at boxing. He credited his success in this area to his father, who taught him how to take a beating. Turner's rebellious nature eventually convinced his parents to send him away to several military boarding schools, including the Georgia Military Academy in Atlanta and the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Always quick with an argument, Turner won the high school debating championship before graduating from McCallie.
When it came time to enter college, Turner disappointed his father by being rejected by Harvard University. He was forced to settle for his second choice, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. During his college years at Brown, Turner continued to earn a reputation as a troublemaker by drinking alcohol and getting into fights. He enjoyed playing the role of a loud, feisty Southern boy among his more serious Northern classmates. He even kept a rifle in his dormitory room, which he occasionally fired out the window. Turner continued his successful debating career in college, becoming vice president of the Brown Debating Union. But he was expelled from Brown in 1959 for sneaking a woman into his dorm room.
Facing loss and taking responsibility
When Turner was twenty years old, his seventeen-year-old sister Mary Jane died. She had been diagnosed with an incurable immune system disease called lupus erythematosus when she was only twelve. Turner had been a devout Christian before witnessing his sister's painful struggle with illness. He had even considered becoming a missionary (someone who spreads the Christian faith among non-Christian people). But after Mary Jane's death, he lost faith in a God who could allow an innocent girl to suffer as his sister had. He remained an atheist (someone who does not believe in God) throughout his life.
In 1960 Turner married Judy Nye, whom he had met through yacht racing. Marriage did not steady his wild nature, however, and he had affairs with other women from the beginning. Turner and Nye had two children, Laura and Teddy, before their divorce in 1963. The following year Turner married Jane Smith, with whom he had three children, Beau, Rhett, and Jennie. Turner remained a difficult husband, however, treating his wife rudely in public and continuing to have affairs with other women. Like his own father, he was distant and frequently harsh with his children.
Turner also went to work in his father's business during this time, and he soon showed a strong talent for sales. In 1962, Ed Turner expanded his billboard advertising company into a number of new cities. Within a short time, however, he became fearful that he could not succeed in the new markets and started selling off some of his acquisitions. Increasingly upset about business pressures and mounting debts, Ed Turner committed suicide on March 5, 1963.
Ted Turner was deeply affected by his father's suicide. The unruly son turned into an aggressive businessman in an attempt to fulfill the expectations of the father he had never been able to please. Turner started by building up the billboard business, selling family property and going into debt to get back into the advertising markets his father had abandoned before his death. Soon Turner Advertising was the largest billboard company in the southeastern United States.
In the late 1960s, Turner began expanding from billboard advertising into other areas of the communications industry. He bought several radio stations in the South, beginning with WAPO Radio in Chattanooga in 1968. Two years later he entered television broadcasting by purchasing a failing UHF station, WJRJ in Atlanta.
Television signals are carried by radio waves, which exist in a range of frequencies called the radio spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission (the U.S. government agency in charge of regulating television) allocated two portions of the radio spectrum for television broadcasting: very-high frequency (VHF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) channels. Most of the stronger VHF channels were controlled by the powerful national broadcasting networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). The weaker UHF channels tended to belong to independent commercial stations or nonprofit educational stations. Although Turner's first TV station used the inferior UHF portion of the broadcast spectrum, he soon came up with a bold plan to expand the reach of its signal.
Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin
From 1992 to 2002, Gerald Levin served as the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Time Warner Inc., one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world. Over the course of his career, Levin became known as a bold, strategic leader with a remarkable ability to predict the future direction of business and technology. His ideas contributed to the rapid growth of cable TV services in the 1980s and to the increasing consolidation (the combination of several businesses into one large business) of American media in the 1990s.
Gerald Manuel Levin was born on May 6, 1939, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For much of his youth he planned to become a rabbi (a Jewish religious leader). Levin majored in biblical studies at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, but then he decided against further religious training. Instead, he studied law at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating first in his class in 1963.
Levin started out working as an attorney in a New York City law firm. In 1972 he changed career paths and went to work for Home Box Office (HBO), a regional cable TV service that offered pay-per-view movies and sporting events to viewers on the East Coast. HBO was owned by Time Inc., the publisher of Time magazine. Levin started out as the vice president of programming at HBO, and he became president of the company the following year.
In 1975 Levin convinced his bosses at Time to invest $7 million in a plan to distribute HBO's programming nationwide. His plan involved bouncing HBO's signal off a communications satellite orbiting Earth. The signal from the satellite could be received by cable TV systems across the country. Levin's bold idea helped HBO increase its number of customers from 100,000 to 14 million over the next four years. During that time, a number of other cable TV stations began distributing their signals by satellite as well. In this way, Levin's idea contributed to the rapid growth of cable TV in the 1980s.
Levin was named chairman and CEO of HBO in 1976, and three years later he was promoted to vice president of video projects at parent company Time Inc. In 1984 he became the vice president of strategy. In this position, Levin began pushing Time to expand its business beyond magazine publishing and cable TV stations. He wanted the company to enter the movie and music businesses as well.
In 1990, in one of the biggest business deals in U.S. media history, Time Inc. combined its operations with Warner Communications. Levin played an important role in planning and negotiating the merger of the two companies. He supported the deal because it gave Time access to Warner's television, film, and music content. In 1992 he became chairman and CEO of the combined firm, known as Time Warner.
Levin continued expanding Time Warner's communications empire in 1995, when he arranged to purchase Turner Communications. This company, founded by Ted Turner, controlled a number of popular cable TV channels, including TBS and CNN. In 2000 Levin made another huge business deal, this time combining Time Warner with the Internet service provider America Online (AOL). He believed that merging with AOL would give Time Warner access to a valuable new distribution channel for its content: the Internet.
Unfortunately, the AOL deal was widely considered to be a disaster for Time Warner. A few months after it was finalized, investors lost confidence in Internet-related businesses and the price of shares of stock in these companies dropped rapidly. The shares of AOL stock that Time Warner had received in the merger lost half of their value, causing financial trouble for the newly formed AOL Time Warner. Levin came under a great deal of criticism from stockholders, and he stepped down as chairman and CEO in 2002.
Becoming the king of cable
Turner renamed his Atlanta television station WTCG, for Turner Communications Group. He began showing classic TV series, cartoons, old movies, and sporting events to attract viewers, and by 1973 the station was making a profit. Then Turner began thinking about ways that he could broadcast programs to a much larger audience. In 1975, a pay-per-view TV channel called Home Box Office (HBO) started offering its programming to viewers across the United States by bouncing its signal off communications satellites orbiting Earth. The signal was picked up by cable TV systems and sent through cable lines to their customers. Turner decided to use the same approach.
In 1976, Turner turned his independent station into a national cable TV network. Like HBO had done the year before, Turner arranged to deliver his signal to cable systems across the country via satellite. He changed his call letters to WTBS (for Turner Broadcasting System) and referred to it as a Superstation. He soon convinced national advertisers to place their commercials on his cable network. Within a few years, more than 160 million viewers in over 200 countries were watching Turner's lineup of popular shows from the past.
Turner used the wealth he gained from his broadcast stations to buy the Atlanta Braves professional baseball team and the Atlanta Hawks professional basketball team. He later acquired two Atlanta hockey teams, the Flames and the Thrashers. These purchases turned out to be brilliant business decisions, because they gave Turner the right to broadcast all of the teams' games on WTBS. Of course, the flamboyant Turner also enjoyed the special privileges he gained as a team owner, like playing poker with the players and coaching from the sidelines.
As Turner developed a reputation as an important media person, his private life remained troubled. Considered by many to be ill-mannered and coarse, Turner was known to cheat on his wives, bully his children, and alternately charm and terrorize his business associates. Still a skilled and passionate yachtsman, in 1977 he captained the boat Courageous that won the prestigious America's Cup sailboat race. After arriving noticeably drunk to collect the trophy, Turner gained the nickname Captain Outrageous.
As his business enterprises earned greater profits, Turner became convinced that he had a duty to make the world a better place. He began to envision a television network devoted to presenting news from around the world. He believed that such a global news channel could help people in different nations understand each other better and thus contribute to world peace.
With this ambitious goal in mind, Turner launched an innovative new broadcasting enterprise in 1980. His Cable News Network (CNN) became the first cable television channel to offer news programming twenty-four hours per day. In the beginning, many longtime network news experts ridiculed Turner and his cable news channel. They jokingly dubbed CNN the "Chicken Noodle Network" and complained about the poor quality of its sets and the low pay it offered to reporters. CNN initially struggled to attract viewers, but it gradually began to surprise its critics and live up to its founder's ideals. In 1982 CNN began broadcasting in Asia, and in 1985 it expanded to Europe.
Within a few years of its creation, CNN became famous for its coverage of breaking news events. In 1986, for instance, CNN was the only TV channel to provide live coverage of the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. After the first American astronaut walked on the Moon in 1969, the broadcast networks had stopped paying much attention to the U.S. space program. So when Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board, CNN achieved a major scoop on the competition. The incident helped make CNN the first choice for many TV viewers when important news broke.
CNN really moved to the front of TV news coverage during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. This conflict began when the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq invaded its smaller neighbor, Kuwait. When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (1937–) refused international requests to remove his troops from Kuwait, the United States and a coalition (cooperative group) of other countries sent military forces to the Persian Gulf region. The coalition spent several weeks bombing strategic targets in Iraq, then launched a ground attack that succeeded in forcing the Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait.
On the night the coalition bombing raids began, CNN had three anchors stationed in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. These men—Peter Arnett (1934–), Bernard Shaw (1940–), and John Holliman (1948–1998)—covered the attacks live from the balcony of their downtown hotel room. Their daring footage attracted 11 million viewers—or about 20 times the normal ratings for CNN. CNN's coverage of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which was broadcast via satellite, helped the cable network become a prime news source for TV viewers around the world. In fact, news experts started discussing a theory called the CNN effect, in which CNN actually influenced world events by focusing its news cameras on them. Network executives who had laughed at the idea of twenty-four-hour news soon began to develop their own competing cable news channels, such as MSNBC and Fox News.
Rancher and philanthropist
Turner continued expanding his media empire throughout the 1980s. In 1986, following a failed attempt to buy the CBS broadcast network, Turner made a $1.5 billion deal to buy the Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) and United Artists film studios. These purchases gave him access to huge film libraries, which he used to provide programming for his cable TV networks. In 1988 Turner launched a new cable channel called Turner Network Television (TNT), and in 1994 he added Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to showcase the MGM films. Deciding that modern audiences did not like to watch black-and-white movies, he began the process of colorizing (using computerized methods to add color) many of the older films he had bought. Classic film lovers were horrified by the practice, but many viewers enjoyed the colorized films. In 1991, Turner bought a library of classic cartoons from the legendary animation studio Hanna Barbera, and the following year he introduced the Cartoon Network in order to present these programs.
During this time, Turner began seeing a mental health professional who diagnosed him with manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder. People who have this condition suffer severe mood swings, with periods of high energy and extreme happiness alternating with periods of deep depression. A doctor prescribed the drug lithium to help Turner control his mood swings. After divorcing his second wife in 1988, Turner married actress Jane Fonda in 1991. During this marriage, Turner became more relaxed and developed closer relationships with his children. He eventually was able to stop taking lithium. Although he and Fonda divorced in 2001, they remained friends afterward.
In 1995, Turner Broadcasting merged with the giant media company Time Warner. While Turner retained some influence over the operation of the business he created, he found it difficult to no longer be the boss. Time Warner's management had little patience with Turner's strict style of leadership or his often embarrassing public displays of temper. When Time Warner merged with the large Internet company America Online (AOL) in 2001, Turner found himself with almost no power. He stepped down from his position as vice chairman of the Time Warner board of directors in 2003, and in 2006 he left the company entirely.
At first Turner was angry about losing control of the company he had built. But he soon turned his attention to other interests. For instance, he became the largest individual landowner in the United States, with more than 200 million acres of land in several western states. Since he was always an avid outdoorsman, Turner's lifelong love of fishing and hunting led him to become an active environmentalist. To help preserve the American bison from extinction, he developed the largest private herd in the world, with more than 40,000 animals. He also started a national chain of restaurants, Ted's Montana Grill, which featured buffalo meat specialties.
Moreover, Turner dedicated his time and money to various charitable causes. He eventually became known as one of the world's leading philanthropists (people who support charities) and publicly challenged other billionaires to follow his example. From 1985 until 1991, Turner operated the Better World Society, which promoted environmental education by making documentary films on subjects such as world hunger and pollution. In 1989 he established the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Awards to honor writers whose works offered solutions to important world problems. To administer his vast contributions, he created the Turner Foundation in 1990.
In 1997 Turner was honored by the United Nations (UN) for his humanitarian work. That year, in an unprecedented gesture, he donated one billion dollars—a third of his personal fortune—to the UN to help provide food, medicine, and other aid to needy people. In 2000 he contributed $35 million of his own money to help settle a dispute between the UN and the United States.
In Ken Auletta's 2004 biography Media Man, Turner summed up his remarkable career in typically folksy fashion. Comparing himself to "a rabbit that's small and fast," he noted that "all my big competitors were like a pack of wolves, and they were all chasing me, but I was fast enough to be out in front of them."
For More Information
Auletta, Ken. Media Man: Ted Turner's Improbable Empire. New York: Norton, 2004.
Bibb, Porter. It Ain't as Easy as It Looks: Ted Turner's Amazing Story. New York: Crown, 1993.
Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg. Citizen Turner: The Wild Rise of an American Tycoon. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.
Klein, Alec. Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.
Stark, Steven. Glued to the Set. New York: Free Press, 1997.
Williams, Christian. Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: The Story of Ted Turner. New York: Times Books, 1981.
Auletta, Ken. "The Lost Tycoon." New Yorker, April 23, 2001.
Henry, William A. III. "History as It Happens." Time, January 6, 1992.
Lewis, Mark. "Levin's Legacy at AOL Time Warner." Forbes, May 17, 2002.
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Robert Edward (Ted) Turner III, also known as the "Mouth of the South," has put his money where his mouth is to become a multimedia mogul. From his ownership of two professional sport teams and a love of yachting to his empire of seven cable networks and two movie studios, Ted Turner has become a billionaire three times over. He was also named biggest charitable donor in 1997 by pledging to the United Nations $100 million each year for the next 10 years.
Ted Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 19, 1938. His parents, Ed and Florence Rooney Turner, moved Ted and his younger sister, Mary Jane, to Savannah, Georgia, when Ted was nine. Ted's father was described as an authoritarian who, at times, asserted his power by beating Ted with a wire coat hanger. Ted never felt like he could, or would, live up to his father's high standards.
Ed Turner enrolled his son in the Georgia Military Academy where Ted remained until high school. His father then sent Ted off to McCallie, a Tennessee military preparatory school. In 1955 Ted, representing his high school, won the Tennessee state debate contest, but he was also something of a rebel.
After graduating from high school, Turner wanted to attend the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. However, his father put his heavy foot down and told Ted that he would attend Brown University and pursue a business degree. Nonetheless, Ted defied his father's authority when he decided to study humanities and the classics instead of business. This show of independence ignited a battle that became public after Turner published, in Brown's student newspaper, a letter that his father wrote, which completely made fun of him and his decision. However, this did not stop Turner's father. Ed continued wielding his influence until Turner finally broke down and changed his major to economics. Yet, Turner would never earn a degree from Brown. He was kicked out of Brown twice. First, he was suspended because of a rowdy party. Although he was allowed to return six months later, after a tour of duty with the Coast Guard, Turner was expelled a second time because he broke Brown's rule forbidding students from having guests of the opposite sex in their dorm rooms. Turner was not asked back.
Turner married three times—first to Judy Nye, with whom he has two children, Laura Lee and Robert Edward IV; second, in 1964, to Jane Smith, with whom he has three children, Beau, Rhett, and Jennie; and third, in 1991, to Jane Fonda. Turner and Fonda divorced in 2000.
Turner actually began a full–time "career" at just nine years of age when his father had him work summers at his billboard company—Turner Advertising. Turner mowed the lawn around billboards and maintained their poles. He continued working summers at his father's company, although by college he had stopped cutting grass and had started working with customers as an account executive. Yet, Turner was not happy. He had wanted to work at the Norton Yacht Club in Connecticut, a club that would let Turner pursue his love of sailing by giving him the chance to race, but his father said no.
In 1960 Turner became general manager of Turner Advertising Company at its branch office in Macon, Georgia. For the next three years, Turner found that he did not have a strong liking for business. As Turner's success grew, so did his confidence, and in 1963, with this newfound confidence, Turner battled his father once again. In 1962 Ed Turner had overextended his budget by buying into the General Outdoor Advertising Company, and by 1963 Ed felt that he had too many financial obligations. He decided to sell his business. Turner became furious and confronted his father. He had become a successful businessman, just as his father had wanted, and he was not willing to simply give up on the business. But, on March 5, 1963, Ed Turner did give up—he killed himself. Turner stopped the sell–out plans and sold two family plantations to help cover business debts. Over the next seven years, Turner worked hard to get the family business, now his business, back on track.
In 1970 after rebuilding the company—now known as Turner Communication Corporation—into a huge success, Turner stepped into the world of television. Television would never be the same again. Merging with Rice Broadcasting, Turner bought Channel 17, an independent Atlanta UHF station. With this station, Turner stomped out the local competition by cornering a 16 percent share of the TV audience. He won this huge audience by broadcasting Atlanta sports teams' games, movie reruns, and sitcoms. Just six months later, Turner further expanded his TV audience when he bought a second independent station, WRET–TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. For the next five years, Turner kept an eye on the progress of cable television, and in 1975 his station—now known as WTBS—became the first wholly cable station to be delivered to TV audiences via satellite. By the end of 1976, Turner's "superstation" was estimated to be worth $40 million dollars.
Turner was not solely focused on his work, however. In 1976 he bought Atlanta's baseball team, the Braves, and Atlanta's basketball team, the Hawks. He bought controlling interest in Atlanta's hockey team, the Flames. Turner was also a sportsman in his own right. In 1977 he captained his yacht the Courageous and won the America's Cup. This win granted him the title "Yachtsman of the Year." This award also, according to Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television, "earned him the nickname 'Captain Courageous.'" However, "the [TV] industry and press [named him] 'Captain Outrageous,' for Turner's outspokenness, eccentric behavior, and derring–do in the business world." With this "derring–do," the purchase of three of Atlanta's sports teams, and his growing library of network reruns and movies, Turner's WTBS, in 1979, began broadcasting 24 hours a day.
However, Turner was not happy with just one cable station, albeit a "superstation." In 1980 Turner got what he wanted by creating the first U. S. 24–hour news station—Cable News Network (CNN). The television industry laughed at Turner's creation. Some wondered how Turner could profit with a 24–hour cable news station when broadcast networks like CBS, NBC, and ABC could not profit with their daily half–hour newscasts. He went on to launch a second news channel, Headline News Network, in 1982. This new network offered continuous half–hour news summaries. Both proved to be huge successes.
Still, Turner faced setbacks during the 1980s. He first made an unsuccessful bid to buy CBS. He then closed a $1.6 billion deal to gain control of the movie studio MGM's film library; this acquisition benefitted Turner, but its terms were less than favorable. To finance this deal, he had to give up some of his power when he was forced to sell off parts of his media empire to cable operators such as Tele–Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Time Warner. By 1986 Turner was once again standing tall when CNN began showing a profit and increasing its audience steadily. Also in 1986, Turner established his fourth cable station—Turner Network Television (TNT)—now known for its programming of WCW wrestling matches, theatrical movie reruns, and original movies.
In 1986 Turner's love of sports yet again pushed him into another new venture. Turner founded, financed, and broadcast the Goodwill Games. Turner wanted these Olympic–like games to foster better relations between Russia and the United States. For the next five years, Turner continued building his empire by purchasing the Hanna–Barbara animation studio and its cartoon library. He continued promoting peace through the second Goodwill Games in 1990, even though this endeavor cost him millions of dollars. During these five years, the popularity of CNN exploded due to its accurate and up–to–the–minute reporting of the Persian Gulf War. Thus, Turner was dubbed by some the "King of Cable," and was named "Man of the Year" in 1991 by Time magazine. That year Turner also married Academy Award–winning actress Jane Fonda.
In 1992 Turner established two more cable and satellite channels: the Airport Channel, which offered flight information at U. S. airports, and the Cartoon Network, which was supported by his recently purchased cartoon library. Two years later, Turner established yet another channel when he started broadcasting his MGM film library on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
In a surprise move in a 1995, Turner accepted a $7.5 billion bid from Time Warner to buy Turner Broadcasting. With this deal, Turner became Time Warner's vice chairman and largest shareholder. The purchase in part helped Turner and Time Warner to fend off an aggressive television market attack by holdings of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, owner of the Fox network, among many other media interests.
Chronology: Ted Turner
1960: Took over family business, Turner Advertising Company.
1970: Purchased first TV station.
1976: Bought the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks.
1977: Won America's Cup yacht race.
1980: Formed Cable News Network (CNN).
1982: Launched Headline News.
1986: Established Turner Network Television (TNT).
1986: Purchased MGM/UA's movie studio and film library.
1991: Named Time's Man of the Year.
1991: Married Jane Fonda.
1992: Introduced Airport Channel and Cartoon Network.
1994: Began Turner Movie Classics, his seventh cable network.
1996: Purchased ranch acreage in New Mexico, for purpose of ecotourism and bison grazing.
1997: Pledged $1 billion in donations to United Nations causes.
1999: Sold mineral rights on New Mexico land for royalty, allowing drilling.
2000: Divorced Jane Fonda.
2001: Time Warner merged with America Online to form AOL Time Warner; set up Ted Turner Productions.
Turner was seldom hesitant to share the fortune he'd made from his many business ventures. Most dramatically, in 1997 he announced that he would donate $1 billion to the United Nations (UN) through a special foundation he created for the cause. His massive contribution came in the wake of his periodic criticisms of other billionaires for not giving enough back to society. Turner had long been associated with environmental and other charitable causes. In an explanation of his gift to the UN, Turner told Howard Fineman in Newsweek, "According to Jesus Christ, money is worthless. It won't buy you anything in heaven, if there is one. It might not even get you in." A Turner Networks employee speculated on additional motives behind Turner's unusual pledge to the UN, calling the pledge part of Turner's "Citizen Kane complex." Turner was apparently fascinated by the story of Citizen Kane, and Turner's son claimed that Turner "thought he was Kane, a guy who has everything and ends up with nothing." Turner's friends also suspected that his philanthropy was in part motivated by the fact that Turner didn't want to die rich and alone.
But Turner angered environmentalists in 1999 when he went against his previously stated intentions and decided to allow oil drilling operations on 578,000 acres of private property in New Mexico. Turner had stated when he bought the land in 1996 that it was to be used only by ecotourists and resident bison. He later sold the mineral rights to the property for a 3 percent royalty, which was expected to total $81 million over a period of 21 years.
By early 1999, Turner's wide array of business ventures included a large market share of the bison market, according to Insight on the News. Turner owned 17,000 head of bison on three ranches, was a major supplier of the North American Bison Cooperative, and sold $6 million to the federal government to feed poor Native American families. However, a competitor, the InterTribal Bison Cooperative, accused Turner of selling the best cuts of the meat to exotic restaurants and selling the government the fattiest cuts. Appearing embarrassed, Turner attempted a low profile on the issue by stepping out of the spotlight and merging his operations with an Omaha–based meat supplier.
In January 2000, AOL announced it would acquire Time Warner, Inc., for approximately $165 billion in stock, with the exact value to be determined by the stock prices of both firms. The new company would be called AOL Time Warner, with Steve Case serving as chairman. Time Warner's chairman Gerald Levin was to be the new company's CEO, Turner the vice–chairman. The merger would give AOL access to 20 million homes connected to Time Warner's cable lines and 300,000 cable modems already installed in Time Warner's Road Runner network. AOL would then be positioned to deliver its content through cable as well as telephone lines.
The merger took place in January 2001. That April, Turner criticized his boss Gerald Levin in a New Yorker magazine interview, saying, "I think he did a pretty marginal job of running [AOL Time Warner]." Turner's main complaint, however, was his relegation to a marginal role—vice–chairman—in the company. In May, AOL Time Warner announced that it was cutting 500 jobs at Turner Broadcasting System, including 400 at CNN. Reuters News Service reported on a Wall Street Journal story in October 2001 stating that Turner would likely not renew his employment contract with AOL Time Warner when it expired at the end of the year. He was expected, however, to maintain his place as a member of the AOL board.
In June, Turner, frustrated by the gradual loss of control over his media empire, announced that he was setting up his own production company to produce feature–length films and documentaries. Although the studio planned to work closely with AOL Time Warner, Inc., it also expected to develop projects on its own in cases in which AOL Time Warner was not interested.
Social and Economic Impact
Ted Turner has made an indelible mark on the world's television markets through his founding of several of the leading networks viewed on cable and satellite television. His revolutionary concepts like CNN's all–news format created wholly new and profitable genres of broadcasting that had not previously existed. He has also been a notable personage in international sporting and social causes through his participation in yachting competitions, his ownership of Atlanta–based professional sports teams, and his philanthropy and social activism.
Turner considered himself an ardent environmentalist, and in the year 1998 he gave funds to environmental organizations that totaled $25 million. The Turner Foundation included the Turner Endangered Species Fund, which focused on saving species such as the desert bighorn sheep and the California condor. Turner's environmental foundation funded 450 environmental advocacy groups in 1999. On ranch land that Turner owned in Montana, he planned to reintroduce wolves and falcons as well as native plant life. In addition, he hoped to demonstrate cultivation methods on the land that were environmentally sound. Turner was also concerned with other social issues such as world overpopulation and the impact of consumption on the earth's resources. In his personal life, Turner sought to decrease his own consumption by driving a mid–sized car, walking when possible, and saving on electricity in his home. Claimed Turner of his approach to life, work, and the causes that he supported, "I didn't set out to make a lot of money. . . . I went after the best ideas that would benefit the most people."
In 2001, after Turner's nine–year marriage to Jane Fonda had dissolved and his boss Gerald Levin had eased him out of his top role at AOL Time Warner, Turner reportedly compared himself to the biblical character Job, who went from great wealth to enduring incredible financial and personal hardships. Characteristically, Turner responded by announcing plans to donate money to the UN, fight for environmental causes, and bankroll hard–hitting documentaries.
In March of 2001, Turner responded to questions by students at his alma mater, the McCallie School. In commenting on his philanthropy, Turner said, "I never set out to become wealthy so I could become philanthropic. I set out to have an interesting life and to do well. But as I did better than well, I started thinking about the possibility of reinvesting my wealth in making a better world." When asked if the motivation for his charitable contributions was for personal glory or the greater good, Turner replied that he didn't know. "It's hard to tell. Who cares, as long as it gets done?" he explained. Former spouse Jane Fonda put a different spin on the picture, however: "For some reason, he has a guilty conscience. He went so much further than his father thought he would. So what's left? To be a good guy."
Sources of Information
Contact at: Turner Broadcasting
PO Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30348
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Webster, Donovan. "Welcome to Turner County." Audubon, January 1999.
At times, Ted Turner seemed best known for his outrageous comments or his sporting exploits than for his business skills. But during the 1970s and 1980s, he showed a knack for success in the television industry, taking a regional family business and turning it into an important media company. Turner, as much as any one single person, made cable television a part of everyday life in the United States. And with the fortune he made in television, he tried to promote international goodwill—along with promoting himself.
"If I hadn't started [Turner Broadcasting System] I couldn't have afforded to buy it. And if I hadn't started it, I would certainly not be qualified to work here in any capacity."
Young Rebel in Business
Robert Edward Turner III was born on November 19, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the first child of Ed and Florence Turner. After World War II (1939-45), Mr. Turner started a company that owned billboards. Turner Advertising became the dominant billboard company in the Southeast, providing the Turners a solid income. Ted spent most of his childhood away from his parents, first living with his grandparents while his father served in the war, then attending a military school in Georgia. Still, the boy found time to help out at the family business, mowing the grass around the poles that supported the billboards.
Turner had a difficult relationship with his father, often suffering physical abuse. The two also clashed over Turner's college education, as his father demanded he attend Brown University in Rhode Island and study business. Turner, who had an early interest in sailing, wanted to go to the U.S. Naval Academy, but he gave in to his father's wishes. Turner tended to be mischievous, and he was kicked out of Brown before he received his diploma.
Turner wanted to race sailboats, but his father wanted him to work for the family business. In 1960, he took a position at the firm's office in Macon, Georgia. (He also married his first wife that year, Judy Nye. He later married two more times.) Turner helped increase sales in Macon, showing a natural flair for business. He also took time to race boats on the side. In 1962, Turner's father expanded his company, buying part of another billboard operation. After the purchase he had second thoughts, and felt he had gotten too deeply in debt. He planned to sell Turner Advertising, an idea the younger Turner opposed. Ted even offered to buy the business, but his father went ahead with his plan to sell to outsiders.
Turning on to Television
In March 1963, Ed Turner killed himself, ending a life often filled with psychological pain. Ted Turner then began to dismantle his father's deal to sell Turner Advertising. He sold off family land to pay debts and motivated his employees to work harder. After a year, Turner Advertising was back on solid ground, and Turner once again turned to sailing. But he always paid enough attention to the company to make sure it was doing well.
Ted Turner's love of sailing lasted throughout his life. In 1977, he captained his boat Courageous as it won the America's Cup, the most important trophy in U.S. sailing.
By the late 1960s, Turner Advertising became Turner Communications, as the company purchased several radio stations in the South. Then, in 1970, the business merged with Rice Broadcasting, which owned WJRJ, an Atlanta UHF TV station. With their low-powered signals, UHF channels could not reach many viewers, but Turner saw the station as a way to expand into television. He renamed the station WTCG, for Turner Communications Group.
To attract more viewers, Turner spent wildly to buy the right to broadcast popular old situation comedies and feature films. Always the good salesmen, he convinced local companies to advertise on the channel. Turner assured them that his viewers were more intelligent than the people who watched other local stations. He knew this, Turner told Broadcasting in 1977, because "it takes a genius to figure out how to tune a UHF set." Wrestling and professional baseball also grabbed viewers, and by 1973 WTCG was making a healthy profit.
Turner, however, was not satisfied. He saw that satellite technology could bring WTCG to viewers across the country. In 1976, Turner launched his "Superstation," later changing the station's letters to WTBS, for Turner Broadcasting System. The Superstation continued to feature its usual programming, but now it could reach hundreds of thousands—and potentially millions—of viewers at once. Turner was the first person to use satellites and cable to bring a local station to a national audience. By then, Turner's deals and his strong personality earned him several colorful nicknames, including "Captain Outrageous" and "the Mouth of the South."
Ted Turner made his first large sports purchase in 1976, buying the Atlanta Braves baseball team. He later purchased the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association and hockey's Atlanta Flames. That team eventually left Atlanta, but Turner bought the city's new hockey franchise, the Thrashers.
News for the World
After the success of WTBS, Turner bought space on a satellite for another channel, even though he didn't know what it would broadcast. By 1978, however, he began shaping a vision of a twenty-four hour news network. This decision shocked some of Turner's employees and friends. According to Porter Bibb, Turner had been quoted as saying, "I hate the news. News is evil. It makes people feel bad." But as a business opportunity, news would soon make Turner feel very good.
Traditional television networks laughed at the idea of an all-news network. But Turner, as usual, was willing to spend—and lose—money to make his vision a reality. His Cable News Network aired for the first time in 1980, although it reached fewer than two million homes wired for cable. Turner followed CNN with a headline news TV station and a CNN radio network. Slowly, more cable systems picked up CNN, and it was broadcast by satellite around the world. By 1986, CNN made its first profit, and Turner had once again created something new in television history—a successful channel entirely devoted to the news.
To Turner, CNN was a way to try to bring peace and understanding to the countries of the world. Turner's dream for world peace also led him to help start the Goodwill Games, an athletic contest similar to the Olympics. The first was held in Moscow in 1986, at a time when the former Soviet Union and the United States were locked in a Cold War, a struggle to spread their competing economic and political systems around the world. Since then, the Games have continued to attract top athletes from around the world.
Growth and Merger
Through the 1980s, Turner kept looking to expand his company. He tried to buy the CBS network in 1985. When that deal fell through, he turned to Hollywood and bought the famous MGM/UA film company. The size of the deal forced Turner to sell off most of the company's assets, but he kept its library of films. Later he bought the Hanna-Barbera animation company, and its cartoons became the foundation of another new Turner cable network, the Cartoon Network, launched in 1992. Other new stations included Turner Network Television (TNT) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
During the late 1980s, Ted Turner upset many film fans when he began adding color to old films that were originally shot in black-and-white. The criticism—and the cost of "colorization"—led Turner to stop the practice several years later.
As his fortune grew, Turner entered the ranching business, buying more than 150,000 acres in Montana. He started raising bison for their meat, becoming one of the leading buffalo ranchers in the nation. Turner also continued to make news with his non-business dealings, especially when he married actress Jane Fonda (1937-) in 1991. Fonda had been a vocal protester of the Vietnam War (1959-75), and she seemed an unlikely bride for the brash entrepreneur. The couple divorced in 2001.
In 1996, with Turner Broadcasting a major force in television and on the Internet, Turner announced he was selling his company to Time Warner. The deal, worth $7.5 billion, created the largest media company in the world, with annual revenues of about $20 billion. Turner took control of a new Time Warner division that combined its HBO and Cinemax channels with his TV networks. He also headed the company's efforts to expand its presence on the Internet.
The 2001 deal between Time Warner and AOL seemed to give Turner a smaller role in the company. He remained on the company's board of directors and kept his title of vice chairman, but AOL Time Warner head Gerald Levin took away Turner's control of Turner Broadcasting. That fall, Turner said, as reported in Electronic Media, "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would lose my job." Later in 2001, incoming CEO Richard Parsons indicated he would restore some of Turner's clout in the company.
Even without a large role at AOL Time Warner, Turner had plenty to do. His bison operation, which now extended over several states, was the largest in the United States, and Turner was active in many charitable efforts. He had founded the Turner Foundation in 1991, which gave up to $50 million each year to support environmental causes. Turner also backed the United Nations Foundation, giving the first of ten annual contributions of $100 million in 1997. In business and in charity, Turner always took bold steps, making a lasting impression with everything he did.
For More Information
Bibb, Porter. It Ain't as Easy as It Looks: Ted Turner's Amazing Story. New York: Crown Publishers, 1993.
Bruck, Connie. Master of the Game. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Clurman, Richard M. To the End of Time. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Gabler, Neal. An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. New York: Crown Publishers, 1988.
Swisher, Kara. aol.com. New York: Times Business, 1998.
Steve Case: Connecting the World
When Steve Case was in college, he hated working with the punch cards once used to program computers. But as he recalled in Kara Swisher's aol.com, computer networks fascinated him: "The faraway connections seemed magical. It struck me as the most completely obvious use for them, and the rest was just for computer wonks." As one of the founders of the company that became America Online, Case pursued his vision of giving people—average people, not "wonks"—easy access to computer networks and the world of information they could provide.
Case was born in Hawaii in 1958. As a boy, he and his older brother Dan started several businesses, including a juice stand and a magazine distribution operation. In these early commercial efforts, Case tended to work behind the scenes, a reflection of his shy personality. After attending college in Massachusetts, Case took a marketing job at the Procter & Gamble Company (see entry) in Cincinnati, Ohio. His time at P&G taught him the importance of developing strong brand names and building customer loyalty. Case then took a job at Pizza Hut. Based in Wichita, Kansas, he began communicating with friends around the country through one of the first on-line services, the Source.
In 1983, Case joined Control Video Corporation (CVC), which wanted to market video games through an on-line service. The video game market was collapsing, but Case believed in the value of on-line computer communications. Case and partners Jim Kimsey and Marc Seriff turned the failing CVC into Quantum Computer Services, which eventually became AOL. Case used strong marketing tactics to introduce the AOL brand name and constantly tried to make the service easier to use. He also followed trends in computing and networking; in 1994, AOL began offering access to the World Wide Web, which had become a major part of the broader network called the Internet.
By 1998, AOL had knocked off all its existing competitors and withstood the challenges of new rivals. Case, however, took a broad view of his and his company's success. "It's only the second inning," he told Fortune in 1998. "And this is a world that can change overnight." Case couldn't have seen how much those changes would affect him. Less than three years later, he was chairman of AOL Time Warner, and struggling to keep profits up at AOL.
Case, like many of the young computer tycoons of the 1980s and 1990s, made a large fortune with his high-technology company. But unlike such visible leaders as Steve Jobs of Apple Computer, Inc. and Bill Gates from the Microsoft Corporation (see company entries), Case did not dazzle people with his genius or seek much media attention. He stayed focused on giving AOL customers what they wanted, and thinking about the long-term uses of network and wireless services. Case told Fortune in 2002, "We are still moving toward a more connected society. That's the real story."
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Turner, Ted 1938– (R. E. Turner)
TURNER, Ted 1938–
(R. E. Turner)
Full name, Robert Edward Turner III; born November 19, 1938, in Cincinnati, OH; son of Robert Edward (a billboard advertising magnate) and Florence (maiden name, Rooney) Turner; married Judy Nye Hallisey (divorced); married Jane Shirley Smith (a flight attendant), 1964 (divorced, 1988); married Jane Fonda (an actress), December 21, 1991 (divorced May 22, 2001); children: (first marriage) Robert Edward IV, Laura Lee; (second marriage) Beauregard, Rhett, Jennie. Education: Graduated from Brown University with a degree in the classics. Avocational Interests: Sailing, fishing.
Career: Broadcasting and sports executive. WTBS (independent television station), Atlanta, GA, president and chair of the board, 1970–96; Turner Broadcasting System, Atlanta, president and chair of the board, 1979–96, with services including Cable News Network, 1980—, Turner Network Television, 1988—, CNN2, CNN Radio, and Cable Music Channel; Time Warner, Inc., vice chairman, 1996–2000; owner of some 3,600 films originally made for Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1987—. Turner Outdoor Advertising, Atlanta, account executive, 1961–63, president and chief operating officer, 1963–70; Atlanta Braves (baseball team), owner and president, 1976—; Atlanta Hawks (basketball team), part–owner and chair of the board, 1977—. Martin Luther King Center, Atlanta, member of the board of directors; Better World Society (an organization to promote socially conscious television programming), founder and executive, 1985–91; Turner Family Foundation (an organization which donates money), founder, 1991.
Member: National Cable Television Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (board of directors, Atlanta chapter), National Audubon Society, Cousteau Society, Bay Area Cable Club.
Awards, Honors: Regional Employer of the Year Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1976; winner of America's Cup as captain of the yacht Courageous, 1977; Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year, Sales Marketing and Management Magazine, 1979; President's Award, National Cable TV Association, 1979, 1989; Inductee, Hall of Fame, Promotions and Marketing Association, 1980; Salesman of the Year Award, Sales and Marketing Executives, 1980; Private Enterprise Exemplar medal, Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, 1980; Ace Special Recognition Award, National Cable TV Association, 1980; Communicator of the Year Award, Public Relations Society of America, 1981; Communicator of the Year Award, New York Broadcasters, 1981; International Communicator of the Year Award, Sales and Marketing Executives, 1981; National News Media Award, Veterans of Foreign Wars, 1981; Vanguard Award for Associates, National Cable Television Association, 1981; Distinguished Service in Telecommunications Award, Ohio University College of Communications, 1982; Carr Van Anda Award, Ohio School of Journalism, 1982; Edinburgh International TV Festival, Scotland, Special Award, 1982; Board of Governors Award, NATAS (Atlanta chapter), 1982; Drexel University, DSc in Commerce, 1982; Samford University, LLD, 1982; Media Awareness Award, Vietnam Veterans Organization, 1983; Special Olympics Award, Special Olympics Committee, 1983; Dinner of Champions Award, Multiple Sclerosis Society (Georgia chapter), 1983; Praca Special Merit Award, New York Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs, 1983; Inductee, Dubuque (Iowa) Business Hall of Fame, 1983; Central New England College of Technology, D. Entrepreneurial Science, 1983; World Telecommunications Pioneer Award, New York State Broadcasters Association, 1984; Golden Plate Award, American Academy Achievement, 1984; Boy Scouting Award, Boy Scout Council, Outstanding Supporter, 1984; Silver Satellite Award, American Women in Radio and TV, 1984; Lifetime Achievement Award, New York International Film and TV Festival, 1984; Atlanta University, LLD, 1984; D. Public Administration, 1984; Corporate Star of the Year Award, National Leukemia Society, 1985; Distinguished Achievement Award, University of Georgia, 1985; Tree of Life Award, Jewish National Fund, 1985; Business Executive of the Year Award, Georgia Security Dealers Association, 1985; Massachusetts Maritime Academy; University of Charleston, D. Business Administration, 1985; Lifetime Achievement Award, Popular Culture Association, 1986; George Washington Distinguished Patriot Award, S.R., 1986; Inductee, National Association for Sport and Physical Education Hall of Fame, 1986; Missouri Honor Medal, University of Missouri School of Journalism, 1987; Golden Ace Award, National Cable TV Academy, 1987; Lowell Thomas Award, International Platform Association, 1987; Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism, National Press Foundation, 1988; Citizen Diplomat Award, Center for Soviet–American Dialogue, 1988; Chairman's Award, Cable Advertising Bureau, 1988; Directorate Award, NATAS, 1989; Paul White Award, Radio and TV News Directors Association, 1989; Business Marketer of the Year Award, American Marketing Association, 1989; Distinguished Service Award, Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1990; Glastnost Award, Vols. American and Soviet Life Magazine, 1990; Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting, Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 1990; Vanguard Award for Programmers, National Cable Television Association, 1990; Banff Television Festival Outstanding Achievement Award, 1991; named Man of the Year, Time Magazine, 1991; inductee, TV Hall of Fame, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1992; Special Award, National Board of Review, 1992; Governor's Award, Emmy Awards, 1992; Golden Boot Award, 1993; Career Achievement Award, Television Critics Association, 1995; Career Achievement Award, International Documentary Association, 1996; David Susskind Lifetime Achievement Award, Producers Guild of America, 1995; Lifetime Achievement Award in Television, PGA Golden Laurel Awards, 1996; Humanitarian Award, Women in Film Crystal Awards, 1999; Emerson College, honorary degree, 2000; Trinity College, honorary degree, 2001; Named Yachtsman of the Year four times; CINE Lifetime Achievement Award, CINE Competition, 2002.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Hope News Network (also known as Bob Hope's News Network ), NBC, 1988.
CNN Special Report: A Conversation with Carl Sagan, Cable News Network (CNN), 1989.
A Conversation with Castro, CNN, 1990.
The 11th Annual ACE Awards, 1990.
Ted Turner Talking with David Frost, PBS, 1991.
First Person with Maria Shriver, NBC, 1992, 1993.
MGM: When the Lion Roars (also known as The MGM Story ), TNT, 1992.
November 22, 1963: Where Were You? A Larry King Special Live from Washington, TNT, 1993.
Fourth Annual Environmental Media Awards, 1994.
The 10th Annual Television Academy Hall of Fame, 1994.
Naked News, Arts and Entertainment, 1995.
Barbara Walters Presents " The 10 Most Fascinating People of 1995, " ABC, 1995.
Panelist, An American Family and Television: A National Town Hall Meeting, USA Network, The Disney Channel, Bravo, The Family Channel, Cartoon Channel, Nickelodeon, Animal Planet, STARZ!, Food Network, MSG Network, and Encore, 1997.
The Goodwill Games Opening Ceremonies, TBS, 1998.
American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Movies, CBS, 1998.
Jane Fonda: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 2000.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
" How to be a Good Listener, " Arli$$, HBO, 1997.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Himself, Cosmos, 1980.
(Cameo) Lieutenant Colonel W. T. Patton, Gettysburg, 1993.
Television Work; Specials:
Creator, Without Borders (documentary), TBS, 1989.
Creator, The Portrait of Great Britain, TBS, 1990.
Creator, Portrait of Japan, TBS, 1992.
Executive producer, WCW Superbrawl VIII, 1998.
Television Work; Series:
Concept, Captain Planet and the Planeteers (animated; also known as The New Adventures of Captain Planet ), 1990.
Executive producer, WCW Worldwide Wrestling, 1991.
Executive producer, WCW Saturday Night (also known as WCW Saturday Morning ), 1991.
Executive producer, WCW Monday Nitro (also known as World Championship Wrestling Monday Nitro ), 1995.
(As R. E. Turner) Creator, " The Cold War " (also known as " Cold War: A Television History "), CNN Perspectives, CNN, 1998.
Executive producer, WCW Thunder, TNT, 1998.
Himself, Southern Voices, American Dreams, 1985.
(Uncredited) Darryl Fan, The Slugger's Wife (also known as Neil Simon's The Slugger's Wife ), 1985.
(Uncredited) Colonel Waller T. Patton, Gettysburg, 1993.
Himself, Fidel (documentary), First Run Features, 2001.
(As R. E. Turner) Colonel Tazewell, Gods and Generals, 2003.
Executive producer, Starrcade (also known as NWA Starrcade ), 1985–2000.
Executive consultant, Amazing Grace and Chuck, TriStar, 1987.
Assistance, Powaqqatsi, 1988.
Executive producer, NWA Halloween Havoc (also known as Halloween Havoc and WCW Halloween Havoc ), 1989–1998.
Executive producer, Capital Combat (also known as WCW Capitol Combat ), 1990.
Executive producer, WCW Beach Blast, 1992.
Executive producer, WCW Uncensored, 1996.
Executive producer, WCW Bash at the Beach, 1996.
Executive producer, WCW Fall Brawl, 1998.
Executive producer, WCW/NOW Superstar Series: Diamond Dallas Page—Feel the Bang!, 1998.
Executive producer, WCW Souled Out, 1999.
Producer, WCW New Blood Rising, 2000.
Executive producer, Starrcade (also known as WCW Starrcade ), 2000.
Executive producer, Gods and Generals, Warner Bros., 2003.
(With Gary Jobson) The Racing Edge, Simon & Schuster, 1979.
Ted Turner Speaks: Insights from the World's Greatest Maverick, Wiley & Sons, 1999.
Wrote (with Porter Bibb) It Ain't As Easy As It Looks.
Business Leader Profiles for Students, Volume 2, 2002.
Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg, Citizen Turner: The Wild Rise of an American Tycoon, Harcourt Brace, 1995.
Schonfeld, Reese, Me and Ted against the World: The Unauthorized Story of the Founding of CNN, Cliff Street Books, 2001.
Cosmopolitan, September, 1995, p. 262.
Current Biography, June, 1998, p. 52.
Fortune, March 3, 2003, p. 56; May 26, 2003, p. 124.
Harper's Magazine, December, 1997, p. 10.
Inc., April, 1997, p. 11.
Maclean's, February 17, 2003, p. 36.
People Weekly, December 25, 1995, p. 87.
U.S. News & World Report, October 28, 2002, p. 38.
Variety, February 24, 2003, p. 6.
Ted Turner Official Site, http://www.tedturnerpictures.com, November 1, 2003.
American baseball executive
World-class sailor. Sports impresario. Stadium developer. Philanthropist. Media maverick and tycoon.
These are just some of the many roles played by Robert Edward Turner III, better known as Ted Turner.
"He has set ocean racing records that will never been equaled. (With the launch in 1980 of Cable News Network) he has revolutionized the broadcast industry and made Marshall McLuhan's 'global village' real by tying the world together in one television network," Porter Bibb says in It Ain't as Easy as It Looks, a seminal Turner biography published in 1993. "He is complicated and contradictory, but utterly compelling," Bibb writes.
Where to begin with this multifaceted man who grew up in a privileged, but somewhat dysfunctional household? How about at Brown University where Turner, after serving a six-month suspension during his freshman year in 1956, returned to win nine intercollegiate sailing races. Later Turner, who held his own against some of the nation's best collegiate sailors, was elected Brown team captain, as well as commodore of the Brown Yacht Club.
Sailing became an outlet for Turner, who started his business career working for his father's billboard company in 1960. Their relationship was strained, at best. "Nothing could have suited his temperament or his talent better. Alone against the elements, his fate in his own hands … he could sail away from the banalities of the business world, the petty demands of ordinary existence," Bibb writes.
By the late 1960s, Turner was sailing virtually full-time because of the success of the family billboard company. But Turner, the consummate sailor and businessman, was not complacent in either endeavor. Troubled by spending money to maintain unrented billboards, Turner turned them into a vehicle to promote local radio stations he just had purchased. Essentially, Turner was validating what would become a keystone of his business strategy: cross fertilization among the disparate parts of the far-flung media empire that Time Warner ultimately swallowed in 1996.
Brash and Abrasive
Turner refused to modify his occasionally abrasive style, even when navigating the somewhat staid sailing ranks. Because of his brashness he was awarded the moniker "Mouth of the South." His outspokenness, however, did not affect his sailing prowess. A string of successes culminated in Turner being named Yachtsman of the Year in 1970. In fact, he bested Bill Ficker who, as Intrepid captain earlier that year, engineered an America's Cup victory over Australia's Gretel II. Turner won the same award again in 1973, 1977 and 1979.
Meanwhile, Turner continued to build a media empire. In January 1970, Turner Communications Corp.'s merger with Rice Broadcasting brought it WJRJ, the weaker of two UHF (Ultra High Frequency) independent stations in the Atlanta market. To fill what seemed like endless programming hours, Turner broadcast popular, low-cost 1960s fare such as "Leave it to Beaver" and reruns of "I Love Lucy." Moreover, he won a bidding contest in 1973 with a competing Atlanta television station for rights to 60 baseball games played by the then struggling Atlanta Braves, three times the number previously televised.
Looked to Expand
With this plethora of programming at hand, Turner sought a wider outlet. He found it in late 1974 when he decided to send television signals to an orbiting communications satellite that, in turn, would relay them to dishshaped receivers owned by the cable television stations across the country. Thus on December 17, 1976, Turner's "Superstation" was born. The signal was seen from Honolulu to the Virgin Islands and throughout all of North America. "Ted's strategic thinking was sound and foresighted. He essentially was doing an end run around the networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—and their huge investment in landlines," says Jeremy Byman in his short biography, "Ted Turner, Cable Television Tycoon."
To ensure that the Braves would remain a TBS regular, Turner bought the money-losing team in 1976. Because the Braves provided guaranteed programming, Turner said he could afford to lose $5 million a year on team operations and still come out ahead.
But such subsidies did not sit well with Turner. To bolster the sagging team's fortunes and endear himself and the team to a nonplussed Atlanta, Turner became its prime cheerleader and marketing guru. Seemingly nothing was off limits when building Braves mania. Promotions included Easter egg hunts, ostrich races, free halter-top giveaways and belly dancer performances.
His work paid off when the Braves captured the first professional sports championship for Atlanta after they beat the Cleveland Indians, four games to two, in the 1995 World Series. Through the 2002 season, the team won 11 straight division titles.
|1938||Born November 19 in Cincinnati, Ohio|
|1976||Starts TV "SuperStation" concept, transmitting by satellite from WTBS in Atlanta to cable systems nationwide.|
|1977||Wins America's Cup match, world's top sailboat competition.|
|1980||Founded Cable News Network, the first 24-hour, all-news network, through his company, Turner Broadcasting System.|
|1985||Makes unsuccessful $5 billion bid for CBS|
|1986||Buys MGM's prized film library from Kirk Kerkorian for about|
|$1.5 billion, providing raw material for Superstation TBS.|
|1986||Stages Goodwill Games, Olympic-style competition between communist and capitalist countries, that continue in 1990, 1994 and 1998 in New York|
|1991||Purchases Hanna-Barbera cartoon library, which consists of 8,500 espisodes of such cartoon classics as the Flintstones and Yogi Bear, providing basis for 24-hour cartoon network|
|1991||Marries actress and fitness guru Jane Fonda on December 21; his third marriage|
|1996||Sells TBS to Time Warner Inc. for $7.6 billion and becomes vice chairman and a company director of the media conglomerate.|
|2000||Contributes $34 million to United states to help reduce U.S. dues to international body.|
|2000||Turner and Fonda announce separation; divorce becomes final in 2001|
|2002||Instrumental in ouster of CEO Steve Case as chairman of AOL Time Warner|
|2003||Announces resignation as AOL Time Warner Inc. vice chairman, effective May 2003|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1970||U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year|
|1973||U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year|
|1977||U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year|
|1979||Outstanding Entreprenuer of the Year, Sales Marketing and Management Magazine|
|1979||U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year|
|1984||Lifetime Achievement Award, N.Y. International Film and TVFestival|
|1988||Citizen Diplomat Award, Center for Soviet-American Dialogue|
Clashed with Baseball Hierarchy
However, prior to registering such unprecedented success, some of Turner's antics did not sit well with the baseball establishment. Turner even managed the Braves for one game, in May 11, 1977, before Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered him out of the dugout. Charged with tampering in the signing of outfielder Gary Matthews, Kuhn suspended Turner for the balance of the 1977 season.
That gave Turner the opportunity to focus elsewhere. In late December 1976, Turner also added the struggling Atlanta Hawks basketball team to his growing professional sports stable. Making the deal sweeter was the low price tag: $400,000, plus assumption of a $1 million note.
Freed at least for a year from his pressing baseball obligations, Turner threw himself into his other passion, sailing. He underwrote construction of the innovatively designed, aluminum-hulled Courageous, a boat selected to defend the America's Cup against challenger Australia. Turner piloted his craft to a sweep over the challenger from Down Under.
Clashed with Baseball Hierarchy
However, Turner's bid to defend the Cup three years later fell short, with his loss to Dennis Connor. The result: Turner renounced competitive sailing and sold his boats, Courageous and Tenacious. In fact, most of Turner's subsequent racing has been with an 18-foot catamaran crew, with son, Rhett, on the crew.
Turner in 1986 launched the quadrennial Goodwill Games, an alternative international sports competition, that were played through 1998. The motivations were twofold: to provide an alternative athletic forum following Washington's decision to boycott the 1980 Winter Olympics in Moscow (the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984) and, of course, provide a source of ready programming for TBS during the slack periods.
Turner also expanded his sports franchise when he founded the Atlanta Thrashers, a National Hockey League expansion team that began play in 1999. It plays at the $213 million Philips Arena, a new face on the Atlanta sports skyline that complements the $235 million Turner Field, named after the owner of the Atlanta Braves, the primary tenant. It opened in March, 1997.
As sportsman, Turner was a sailing champion. As a sports entrepreneur in the 1970s, Turner represented a new breed of owner. He epitomized corporate ownership while remaining a hands-on maverick. He blurred the distinction between business and sports, and remains highly influential today in both, despite his departure from AOL Time Warner early in 2003 amid a management shakeup. Turner, at the time of his announcement, remained the largest individual shareholder of AOL Time Warner.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY TURNER:
(With Gary Jobson) The Racing Edge. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Captain Planet and the Planeteers (original idea by Ted Turner). Atlanta: Turner Publications, 1992.
(With Janet Lowe) Ted Turner Speaks: Insights from the World's Greatest Maverick. New York: Wiley, 1999.
Bibb, Porter. It Ain't As Easy As It Looks. New York: Crown, 1993.
Byman, Jeremy. Ted Turner: Cable Television Tycoon. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 1998.
Peers, Martin and Ken Brown. "AOL's Winners and Losers." Wall Street Journal (January 14, 2003): B1.
"Future Muddy for Braves, Hawks, Thrashers." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/sports/0103/30turner.html (January 29, 2003).
"Ted Turner Bio Information." Austin American-Statesman. http://www.austinaas/business/ap/ap_story.html/Financial/AP.V7urner-Bio-Box.html (January 29, 2003)
Sketch by Paul Burton
Robert Edward (Ted) Turner III, also known as the "Mouth of the South," has put his money where his mouth is to become a multimedia mogul. From his ownership of two professional sports teams and love of yachting to his empire of seven cable networks and two movie studios, Ted Turner has not only become a billionaire three times over but has also become 1997's biggest charitable donor by pledging to the United Nations $100 million each year for the next 10 years.
Ted Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 19, 1938. His parents, Ed and Florence Rooney Turner moved Ted and his younger sister, Mary Jane to Savannah, Georgia, when Ted was nine.
Ted's father, Ed, was described as an authoritarian who, at times, asserted his power by beating Ted with a wire coat hanger. Ted never felt like he could, or would ever live up to his father's high standards.
Ed Turner enrolled his son in the Georgia Military Academy where Ted remained until high school. His father then sent Ted off to McCallie, a Tennessee military preparatory school. In 1955 Ted, representing his high school, won the Tennessee state debate contest, but he was also somewhat of a rebel.
After graduating from high school, Turner wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. However, his father put his heavy foot down and told Ted that he would attend Brown University and pursue a business degree. Yet, Ted denied his father's authority and decided to study humanities and the classics instead of business. This show of independence ignited a battle that became public after Turner published, in Brown's student newspaper, a letter that his father wrote which completely made fun of him and his decision. However, this did not stop Turner's father. Ed continued wielding his influence until Turner finally broke down and changed his major to economics. Yet, Turner would never earn any degree from Brown. He was kicked out—twice. First, Turner was suspended because of a rowdy party. Although he was allowed to return six months later, after a tour of duty with the Coast Guard, Ted, for the second time was kicked out. He had broken Brown's rule forbidding students from having guests of the opposite sex in their dorm rooms. Turner was not asked back.
Turner has married three times—first to Judy Nye with whom he had two children, Laura Lee and Robert Edward IV; second, in 1964, to Jane Smith, with whom he had three children, Beau, Rhett, and Jennie; and third, in 1991, to Jane Fonda.
Turner actually began a full-time "career" at just nine years old when his father had him work summers at his billboard company—Turner Advertising. Turner mowed the lawn around billboards and maintained their poles. He continued working summers at his father's company, although by college he had stopped cutting grass and started working with customers as an account executive. Yet, Turner was not happy. He had wanted to work at the Noroton Yacht Club in Connecticut, a club that would let Turner pursue his love of sailing by giving him the chance to race, but his father said no.
In 1960, Turner became Turner Advertising Company's general manager at its branch office in Macon, Georgia. For the next three years, Turner found that he did have, if not a love, then a strong like for business. As Turner's success grew, so did his confidence, and in 1963, with this new found confidence, Turner battled his father once again. In 1962, Ed Turner had overextended his budget by buying into the General Outdoor Advertising Company, and by 1963, Ed felt that he had too many financial obligations. He decided to sell his business. Turner became furious and confronted his father. He had become a successful businessman, just as his father wanted, and was not willing to simply give up on the business. But, on March 5, 1963, Ed Turner did give up—he killed himself. Turner stopped the sell-out plans and sold two family plantations to help cover business debts. Over the next seven years, Turner worked hard to get the family business, now his business, back on track.
In 1970 after rebuilding the company—now known as Turner Communication Corporation—into a huge success, Turner stepped into the world of television. Television and the world would never be the same again. Merging with Rice Broadcasting, Turner bought Channel 17, an independent Atlanta UHF station. With this station, Turner stomped out the local competition by cornering a 16 percent share of the TV audience. Turner won this huge audience by broadcasting Atlanta sports teams' games, movie reruns, and sitcoms. Just six months later, Turner further expanded his TV audience when he bought a second independent station, WRET-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. For the next five years, Turner kept an eye on the progress of cable television, and in 1975 his station—now known as WTBS—became the first wholly cable station to be delivered to TV audiences via satellite. By the end of 1976, Turner's "superstation" was estimated to be worth $40 million dollars.
Turner was not solely focused on his work, however. In 1976 he bought Atlanta's baseball team, the Braves, and Atlanta's basketball team, the Hawks. He also bought controlling interest in Atlanta's hockey team, the Flames. Turner was also a sportsman in his own right. In 1977 he captained his yacht the Courageous and won the America's Cup. This win granted him the title "Yachtsman of the Year." This award also, according to Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television, "earned him the nickname Captain Courageous." However, "the [TV] industry and press [named him] Captain Outrageous, for Turner's outspokenness, eccentric behavior, and derringdo in the business world." With this "derring-do," the purchase of three of Atlanta's sports teams, and his growing library of network reruns and movies Turner's WTBS, in 1979, began broadcasting 24 hours a day.
However, Turner was not happy with just one cable station, albeit a "superstation." In 1980 Turner got what he wanted by creating the first U.S. 24-hour news station—Cable News Network (CNN). The television industry laughed at Turner's creation. Some wondered, how Turner could profit with a 24-hour cable news station when broadcast networks like CBS, NBC, and ABC could not profit with their daily half-hour newscasts? But Turner persevered. He launched a second news channel, Headline News Network, in 1982. This new network offered continuous half-hour news summaries. Both would prove to be huge successes.
Still, Turner faced setbacks during the 1980s. He first made an unsuccessful bid to buy CBS. He then closed a $1.6 billion deal to gain control of the movie studio MGM's film library; this acquisition benefited Turner but its terms were less than favorable. To finance this deal, he had to give up some of his power when he was forced to sell off parts of his media empire to cable operators such as Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Time Warner. By 1986, Turner was once again standing tall when CNN began showing a profit and increasing its audience steadily. Also, in 1986, Turner established his fourth cable station—Turner Network Television (TNT)—now known for its programming of WCW wrestling matches, theatrical movie reruns, and original movies.
In 1986, Turner's love of sports yet again pushed him into another new venture. Turner founded, financed, and broadcast the Goodwill Games. Turner, according to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, wanted these Olympic-like games to "foster better relations" between Russia and the United States. For the next five years, Turner continued building his empire by purchasing the Hanna-Barbara animation studio and its cartoon library. He also continued promoting peace through the second Goodwill Games in 1990, even though this endeavor cost Turner millions of dollars. Also, during these five years, the popularity of CNN exploded due to its accurate and up-to-the-minute reporting of the Persian Gulf War. Thus, Turner was dubbed by some the "King of Cable," and was named "Man of the Year" in 1991 by Time magazine. That year Turner also married Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda.
In 1992 Turner established two more cable and satellite channels: the Airport Channel, which offered flight information at U.S. airports, and the Cartoon Network, which was supported by his recently purchased cartoon library. Two years later, Turner established yet another channel when he started broadcasting his MGM film library on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
In a surprise move in 1995, Turner accepted a $7.5 billion bid from Time Warner to buy Turner Broadcasting. With this deal, Turner became Time Warner's vice chairman and largest shareholder. The purchase in part helped Turner and Time Warner to fend off an aggressive television-market attack by holdings of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, owner of the Fox network among many other media interests.
Turner was seldom hesitant to share the fortune he'd made from his many business ventures. Most dramatically, in 1997 he announced that he would donate $1 billion to the United Nations through a special foundation he created for the cause. His massive contribution came in the wake of his periodic criticisms of other billionaires for not giving enough back to society. Turner had long been associated with environmental and other charitable causes. In an explanation of his gift to the UN, Turner told Howard Fineman in Newsweek, "According to Jesus Christ, money is worthless. It won't buy you anything in heaven, if there is one. It might not even get you in."
Chronology: Ted Turner
1960: Took over family business, Turner Advertising Company.
1970: Purchased first TV station.
1976: Bought the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks.
1977: Won America's Cup yacht race.
1980: Formed Cable News Network (CNN).
1982: Launched Headline News.
1986: Established Turner Network Television (TNT).
1986: Purchased MGM/UA's movie studio and film library.
1991: Named Time's Man of the Year.
1991: Married Jane Fonda.
1992: Introduced Airport Channel and Cartoon Network.
1994: Began Turner Movie Classics, his seventh cable network.
1997: Pledged $1 billion in donations to United Nations causes.
Social and Economic Impact
Ted Turner has made an indelible mark on the world's television markets through his founding of several of the leading networks viewed on cable and satellite television. His revolutionary concepts like CNN's allnews format created wholly new and profitable genres of broadcasting that had not previously existed. He has also been a notable personage in international sporting and social causes through his participation in yachting competitions, his ownership of Atlanta-based professional sports teams, and his philanthropy and social activism.
Sources of Information
Contact at: Turner Broadcasting
1 CNN Ctr.
PO Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30348
Brown, Les. Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
Byers, Paula K., and Suzanne M. Bourgoin, eds. Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Current Biography Yearbook. "1979." New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1979.
Dictionary of Twentieth Century Culture, vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.
Fineman, Howard. "Why Ted Gave It Away." Newsweek, 29 September 1997.
The International Who's Who. 60th ed. London: Europa Publications, 1996.
Ted Turner (born 1938), American television entrepreneur, was a pioneer in the field of cable television, establishing the first satellite superstation and the first all-news network. He already was worth more than $2 billion by 1996, when he merged his Turner Broadcasting Network with Time Warner to create the world's largest media company.
Born November 19, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Edward (Ted) Turner III was the oldest child of Ed and Florence Turner. When Turner was nine years old, his father, a native Southerner, moved the family to Savannah, Georgia, where he had bought an outdoor advertising company that was renamed the Turner Advertising Company. This business later launched the younger Turner's successful career as an innovative and risk-taking communications entrepreneur.
Raised by a harsh and domineering father, Turner was sent to military schools in Georgia and Tennessee. He wanted to go to the Naval Academy but he enrolled at Brown University where his father wanted him to study business. The rebellious Turner majored in classics, though he later switched to economics. Although excelling in debating and sailing, he was expelled from the college for entertaining a woman in his dormitory room, which was against college regulations.
In 1960, after a stint with the Coast Guard, Turner began working for his father as a general manager for the advertising company's branch in Macon, Georgia. The senior Turner, unable to face possible financial collapse after developing a successful business, committed suicide on March 5, 1963. At age 24, Turner inherited a struggling company, and with some bold financial maneuvers he aggressively reversed its sagging fortunes, developing the confidence and resources for his growing ambition.
Cable Television Pioneer
In 1970 Turner took his first step into the television industry. He acquired an independent Atlanta UHF station, Channel 17, that was losing about half a million dollars a year. Relying on a combination of programming, local sports, old movies, and such popular network re-runs as Star Trek, Turner achieved a significant 16 percent share of the television market while the station became profitable.
In 1975 the launching of an RCA satellite opened the way for rapid changes in the burgeoning cable television industry. Following the lead of Home Box Office, Turner quickly capitalized on the new potential. He built a $750, 000 transmission antenna and on December 27, 1976, began beaming a signal which could be received and re-broadcast by cable operators across the nation. He had created the country's first "superstation, " WTBS. The super-station audience grew as more and more homes were wired to receive cable. From 1978 to 1986 the number of families watching WTBS jumped from two million to 36 million, and the station was earning Turner Broadcasting $70 million a year, which provided the foundation for Turner's other investment ventures.
Turner maintained his successful UHF formula for programming on the new superstation. Again, popular network re-runs, movies, and sports provided the major viewing fare. As a way of ensuring a steady diet of sports programming, Turner, in 1976, became owner of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, whose games were seen nationally. He dubbed the Braves "America's Team" despite a losing record. (The team finally were World Champions in 1995). Turner in 1996 also purchased the Atlanta Hawks professional basketball team.
Not satisfied with a profitable superstation, Turner in June 1980 created at enormous cost the Cable News Network (CNN), the country's first 24-hour all-news station. An experiment that was expected to fail by most media experts, CNN was both entrenched and showing a profit by 1986. In 1982 Turner inaugurated a second news channel, Headline News Network, which provided continuous half-hour summaries of events.
Buys MGM's Movie Library
A calculating and visionary entrepreneur who regarded himself as an underdog battling the media giants, Turner desired a foothold among the networks. In 1985 he made an unsuccessful effort to seize control of the CBS corporation. In the wake of that failure, he set his sights on acquiring the Metro-Golden-Mayer/United Artists company in order to obtain direct access to its vast film library, a necessary and increasingly expensive component of his superstation programming.
The $1.6 billion deal was completed in March 1986, with Turner getting control of MGM's film library. Insiders speculated that the purchase price was inflated. Moreover, Turner had to be bailed out by a cable television consortium to avoid bankruptcy after the MGM purchase—thus risking the loss of his personal control of Turner Broadcasting. Having ignored the advice of his financial advisers and industry analysts in the past, Turner expected to survive the gamble. By the time of the merger with Time Warner in 1995, the acquisition looked like a stroke of genius.
Merges Turner Broadcasting with Time Warner
In 1995, Turner agreed to sell Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner for $7.5 billion. The merger went into effect in October 1996 following approval by the Federal Trade Commission and the shareholders of the two companies. As vice chairman of Time Warner, Turner reported to that company's CEO, Gerald Levin. Turner assumed responsibility for running the merged company's cable networks, including Time Warner's Home Box Office (HBO) and TBS's Cable New Network (CNN), Cartoon Network, and Turner Classic Movies.
When the deal was announced, many asked how Tuner, who had been his own boss for 35 years could go and work for somebody else. His salary reportedly was $25 million over five years. Perhaps more important, he also became the largest shareholder in Time-Warner, then the world's largest media company, with more than $20 billion in annual revenues from cable television, films, books, magazines, music, and the Internet.
The merger set up a titanic brawl between Turner and another media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. The fireworks began in the fall of 1996 when Turner convinced Levin not to carry Murdoch's fledgling Fox News Service. In approving its merger with TBS, the FTC had ordered Time Warner to offer its millions of subscribers another 24 hour news service in addition to CNN. Instead of Fox News, Time Warner aired MSNBC, a joint venture between Microsoft and General Electric's NBC, whose softer format posed less of a competitive threat to CNN.
The refusal to carry Fox News meant that it would not be seen in New York City, where Time Warner enjoyed a near-monopoly with 1.1 million cable subscribers. Murdoch's news station thus would be invisible to the Madison Avenue advertising agencies and media chieftains whose decisions are worth millions to a cable network. To get around Time-Warner's lock on cable systems, Murdoch announced plans to invest $1 billion in a satellite TV service called Sky, which would offer both cable TV and local broadcast programming.
Time-Warner's decision was followed by a war of words and dirty tricks not seen since the days of William Randolph Hearst. When Murdoch retaliated by canceling plans to carry a Time Warner-owned entertainment channel, Turner immediately likened Murdoch to Nazi leader Adolph Hitler. Later he called Murdoch a "scumbag." Murdoch's New York Post yanked Turner's CNN from its television listings. The Post also dredged up the radical-chic past of "Hanoi Jane" Fonda, Turner's third wife. And it speculated publicly about whether Turner, reportedly a manic-depressive, was neglecting to take his lithium. Perhaps not entirely factitiously, Turner in September 1997 suggested that he and Murdoch settle their highly publicized feud with a boxing match. "It would be like Rocky, only for old guys, " said Turner.
Sports Influence Multiplied Dramatically
In his earlier years, Turner personally participated in international sports competition. Having received the Yachtsman of the Year award an unprecedented three times, he was the winning skipper of the America's Cup race in 1977. Within a few years of purchasing the Atlanta Braves, Turner and TBN were involved in practically every major professional sport. In July 1986 Turner's superstation carried the Goodwill Games, held in Moscow, which featured athletic competition between U.S. and Soviet athletes. In a joint effort with the Soviet Union, Turner he organized and promoted the Olympics-like event. A second competition was held in Seattle, Washington, in 1990. Although the two events lost $66 million, Turner hoped they would foster better relations between the two countries. For his contributions to international broadcasting, Time magazine named him "Man of the Year" in 1991.
By the late 1990s, Ted Turner was worth more than $2 billion; the largest private landowner in the U.S., he divided his days between luxurious homes in six states. A flamboyant and shrewd businessman, he was also a celebrity who worked and lived in the fast lane. In December 1991, Turner married Jane Fonda, movie star and liberal activist. Two previous marriages had produced five children, who sit with Turner and Fonda on the board of the charitable Turner Foundation.
In the highly publicized relationship with Fonda, Turner apparently abandoned the philandering that had plagued his earlier marriages and sought to remake himself as a devoted, loving husband. Fonda, for her part, retired from the screen and folded Fonda Films, her independent production company. While both remained workaholics, they seemed to take genuine pleasure in their times together.
In September 1997, Turner literally stunned the world when he pledged $1 billion to the good-works program of the United Nations. Established programs such as feeding children, helping refugees and the poor, and removing land mines would benefit from his donation. (He has promised to give $100 million a year for a decade to U.N. programs.) After making the largest single pledge in philanthropic history, Turner challenged other wealthy citizens by declaring, "I'm putting every rich person in the world on notice."
Ted Turner is the subject of a biography, Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: The Story of Ted Turner, by Christian Williams (1981). He was the subject of several long magazine profiles, including Newsweek (June 16, 1980), Time (August 9, 1982), and Fortune (July 7, 1986). Turner collaborated with Gary Jobson on a book about sailing, The Racing Edge (1979). He also signed a contract with Simon and Schuster for an autobiography.
See also Bibb, Porter, It Ain't As Easy As It Looks: The Story of Ted Turner & CNN (1993). Goldberg, Robert and Gerald J. Goldberg, Citizen Turner (1995). Painton, Priscilla, "The Taming of Ted Turner, " Time (January 6, 1992). Andrews, Suzanna, "Ted Turner among the Suits, " New York (December 9, 1996). Conant, Jennet, "Married … With Buffalo, " Vanity Fair (April 1997) [discusses marriage and relationship between Turner and Jane Fonda]. Masters, Kim and Bryan Burrough, "Cable Guys, " Vanity Fair (January 1997). See also Newsweek, September 29, 1997. □