Ted Turner



Born: November 19, 1938
Cincinnati, Ohio Vice chairman, AOL Time Warner and founder,
Turner Broadcasting System

Ted Turner. Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.
Ted Turner.
Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.

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

Books

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

Steve Case. Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.
Steve Case.
Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.
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."

Periodicals

Bates, James. "Levin Emerges on Top of Another Huge Merger." Los Angeles Times (January 11, 2000): p. C-9.

Gunther, Marc. "The Internet is Mr. Cases's Neighborhood." Fortune (March 30, 1998): p. 68.

Gunther, Marc, and Stephanie Mehta. "The Mess at AOL Time Warner." Fortune (May 13, 2002): p.74.

Howe, Peter J. "Marriage off to Rocky Start." Boston Globe (April 28, 2002): P. C1.

Koprowski, Gene. "AOL CEO Steve Case." Forbes (October 7, 1996): p. S94.

Mermigas, Diane. "Parsons Wants Ted Back." Electronic Media (December 10, 2001): p. 1.

Pomice, Eva. "The Moguls of Media, Inc." U.S. News & World Report (March 20, 1989): p. 66.

Roberts, Johnnie L. "Main Men." Newsweek duly 29, 1996): p. 42.

Saporito, Bill. "Time for Turner." Time (October 21, 1996): p. 72.

Schiesel, Seth. "Chief-to-Be Says AOL Has One Problem Area." New York Times (May 7, 2002): p. C8.

Stevenson, Swanson. "From Conception, AOL-Time Warner Deal Moved Quickly." Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (January 10, 2000).

"Time Warner + Warner Communications: Media Giants Strike Merger Deal." Broadcasting (March 13, 1989): p. 28.

Web Sites

AOL Time Warner. [On-line] http://www.aoltimewarnercom (accessed on August 15, 2002).



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