As much as Ted Turner demonstrated remarkable clairvoyance in launching CNN in 1980, he missed the mark when he sold control of his Turner Broadcasting empire to Time Warner.
Turner, of course, received a lot of money in the 1996 deal, but if he wanted to remain a major player in the future of TV, being part of Time Warner never allowed it. He left the company for good in 2006 -- the troubled merger with AOL, which Turner endorsed -- didn't help.
Ted Turner has never given off the sense that he’s playing for cash (see massive UN contributions), so his willingness to cede control still seems beguiling. So was this quote in the New York Times when the proposed sale was announced: "I'm tired of being little for my whole life. This is a chance to see the world from a different perspective.”
Since when has Ted Turner ever considered himself “little” in anything?
Strategically, though, Turner apparently feared his company would be too small to compete in a consolidating media world. (He was not able to acquire CBS.) But certainly today, an independent Turner would have extraordinary value.
With CNN, TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network and other valuable assets, the company would be as strong as Discovery Communications and perhaps Viacom – two companies mostly reliant on cable networks. While how much has being part of Time Warner really increased the value of Turner Broadcasting? With the possible exception of a relationship with Warner Bros., potential corporate synergies don’t’ seem to have worked out.
Turner always gets rightful credit for launching CNN, but not to be forgotten are his flipping the switch on TNT and Cartoon Network. He showed an understanding how the cable universe would allow for other valuable channels and the potential in getting in early on the land grab.
But back to CNN. The night the first Gulf War began, CNN had three correspondents broadcasting live in Baghdad as the bombing ensued.
Speaking as he received an award from the Library of American Broadcasting last week, Turner spoke about being in Los Angeles as the war broke out.
“I knew the war was coming and I knew we had our people there … I turned on the television and clicked it over to NBC and there was Tom Brokaw talking, and I switched it over to CBS and there was Dan Rather talking sitting in the studio, and I switched it over to ABC and there was Peter Jennings talking in the studio,” Turner said. “Then, I flashed it over to CNN and there was the war.”
Yes, Turner could say some controversial things and conservative shareholders today may prefer a more buttoned-up CEO. Leave that to a COO. TV today could use a risk-taker like Turner.
“I love broadcasting and it just broke my heart to get squeezed out, pushed out,” Turner said last week. “But that’s the way it goes, thank God they cant squeeze me out of the United Nations. There’s no place to go from there, except outer space. I can go out there and jump out of an airplane with that guy that jumped out the other day. I’m not going to do it.”
That’s surprising. Seems right up Turner’s alley.