LEVIN, GERALD

U.S. Media Executive

Gerald M. Levin is chairman and chief executive officer of Time Warner Inc., a position to which he was elected in 1993. He joined Time Inc. in 1972 after a brief career as an attorney and international investment banker. At Time Inc. he worked in the fledgling Home Box Office (HBO) pay-cable television subsidiary, starting out as a programming executive and eventually becoming chairman of the division. In 1975, during his tenure at HBO, Levin pioneered the use of telecommunications satellites for pay-cable television program distribution. At the time, HBO was using microwave technology to distribute programming to cable systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Levin proposed that all national program distribution be accomplished by satellite transmission, a concept that transformed the U.S. premium-cable industry and led to a dramatic increase in the number of satellite-delivered cable networks. HBO experienced rapid growth after it became available via satellite and became a standard pay-cable offering during the late 1970s and 1980s. By 1979, Levin was a group vice president supervising all cable television operations, and eventually moved into the vice chairman's position in 1988. His ascension within the Time corporate hierarchy marked a transition from print-oriented managers to others, such as Levin, who were involved with electronic media.

Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications in 1990, forming one of the world's largest media providers. As Time's chief strategist, Levin had an influential role in negotiating the complicated merger between two dissimilar corporate cultures. Time Warner publishes books and magazines, distributes recorded music, makes motion pictures, and operates cable television production and distribution companies. From 1992 to 1995, Levin and Time Warner were the focus of a public furor over recorded music lyrics that some critics claim were anti-social. Levin defended the constitutional first amendment rights of the recording artists and film directors who created works for the company, but Time Warner finally dodged the controversy by divesting the music division that produced the most controversial recordings.

Levin has also been an ardent champion of the Time Warner's Full Service Network (FSN), a 100+ channel cable television system that was first introduced in Orlando, Florida. The Full Service Network uses large computer servers to provide digitized programming, such as feature films, on viewer demand. Time Warner, under Levin's direction, is making a significant investment in digital interactive services--technology that combines the formerly-separate delivery modes of cable television and computer-mediated information.

Levin's ascension within Time Inc.--and later in Time Warner--reflects the increasing centrality of electronic communication in mass media companies. Gerald Levin is a champion of electronic media services, and he has risen through the corporate ranks to an influential position as the chief executive of one of the world's largest media organizations. But by 1995 Levin was a central figure in the complex negotiations leading to yet another mega-merger, this time with Ted Turner's media empire, Turner Broadcasting. As the union neared approval by all regulatory bodies in 1996, and as various protest-oriented law suits from competitors waned, considerable discussion focused on whether or not Levin would be able to hold his position at the top of the giant media conglomerate. If he does remain as the head of the new organization he will lead it into a century defined as much by computer driven mediation as by older forms of print, film, and television. If for some reason he moves out of that position, there is little doubt that he will remain at the contested center of the media world.

-Peter B. Seel

 


Gerald Levin
Photo courtesy of Gerald Levin

GERALD LEVIN. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., 6 May 1939. Educated at Haverford College, B.A., 1960; University of Pennsylvania, LL.B., 1963. Married: Carol Needleman, 1959 (divorced, 1970), children: Laura, Leon, and Jonathan. Associate of Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett, 1963-67; general manager and chief operating officer, Development and Resources Corp., 1967-71; representative, International Basic Economy Corp., in Tehran, Iran, 1971-72; vice-president of programming, HBO, 1972; president and chief executive officer, HBO, 1973-76; chair and chief executive officer, HBO, 1976-79; group vice-president of video, Time, Inc., 1979-84; executive vice-president, 1984-88; vice-chairman and director, 1988-90; vice-president and director, Time-Warner, Inc., since 1990; chief operating officer, 1991-92; president and co-chief executive officer to chair and chief executive officer, since 1993; board of directors, Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc. since 1995; trustee of Haverford College since 1983; chair, board of directors of Haverford since 1990. LL.D. Texas College, 1985, Middlebury College, 1994 Member: The Aspen Institute; New York City Partnership; International Radio and Television Society; Recipient: National Distinguished Achievement Award, American Jewish Committee, 1984. Address: Time-Warner, Inc., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York 10019.

PUBLICATION

"The Business of Entertainment: Interactivity, the Consumer, and Federal Regulations." Vital Speeches (New York), 1 June 1994.

FURTHER READING

Bruck, Connie. Master of the Game: Steve Ross and the Creation of Time Warner. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

_______________. "Jerry's Deal." The New Yorker, 19 February 1996. Clurman, R.M. To the End of Time. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Fabrikant, G. "Heir Apparent at Time Warner is Out Amid Signs of Dissension." The New York Times, 21 February, 1992.

Garneau, George. "A Calling in Cyberspace: Time Warner Chairman Calls Print Journalism Integral to Digital Media." Editor and Publisher (New York), 13 May 1995.

Hammer, Joshua. "Man of the Year." Newsweek (New York), 17 August 1992.

Reilly, P.M. "Time Warner is Trying to Ease Anger Over Rap Song, Defend Artist's Rights." The Wall Street Journal (New York), 23 June 1992.

Schifrin, Matthew. "The Mess at Time Warner." Forbes (New York), 20 May 1996.

 

See also Home Box Office; Time Warner; Turner Broadcasting Systems