U.S./International Media Conglomerate

This vast media conglomerate was created in 1989 when Warner Communication and Time, Inc. merged. Through the 1990s it ranked as the largest media company in the world, owning assets in excess of $20 billion, and yearly generating revenues also measured in billions of dollars. In late 1995, in the stormy climate of corporate media mergers begun when the Disney Company bought Capital Cities/ABC, Time Warner set out to create another huge merger with the purchase of the Turner Broadcasting Company. Eclipsed in size by the Disney deal, the combination with Turner would once again make Time Warner the largest media conglomerate in the world.

Even before the latest mergers, however, Time Warner has functioned as a major player in the television business. Its Warner Brothers' studio produces a vast array of TV programs and distributes them around the world. Its cable television division counts millions of subscribers, and owns and operates leading networks such as HBO and Cinemax. Each year Time Warner also sells millions of home video recordings. Fully half its massive revenues come from television-related subsidiaries. The rest flow from moviemaking, owing and operating one of the top six major music labels, and publishing a string of magazines including Time, Fortune, and Money.

Time Warner is everywhere in the television business of the 1990s. The conglomerate owns 23% of the Turner Broadcasting Company and holds three memberships on the board of that organization. Additional representatives sit on the board of WTBS-the SuperStation, CNN, and TNT, as well as the boards of Black Entertainment Television, and the Comedy Channel. In 1995 it counted more than eleven million cable subscribers to its own systems, and planned for more expansion. In short, as the 20th century drew to a close, Time Warner could count rival Tele-Communications, Inc. as its only true competitor in the cable television industry and only the other five major Hollywood studios as serious rivals in making television shows.

The Warner of the company side entered television production first. During the mid-1950s Warner Bros. served as the site for the creation of such early hits as Cheyenne and 77 Sunset Strip. Since then, in various configurations, the company has been involved in the production, ownership and syndication of an imposing list of television shows that includes Martin, Living Single, Jenny Jones, Love Connection, Dukes of Hazard, Eight Is Enough, Knots Landing, The Waltons, Wonder Woman, Alf, Family Matters, Full House, Head of the Class, My Favorite Martian, Murphy Brown, and Perfect Strangers. Dozens of made-for-TV movies also stream out of the Warner studio each year. Time, Inc. came to cable TV in the 1960s and became a leader on the strength of its innovation of HBO a decade later.

The 1989 merger linked these assets and pushed Time Warner toward becoming the biggest television company in world history. The organization truly hit its corporate stride when refashioned in the 1970s into Warner Communication under Steven J. Ross.

Ross created Time Warner, and as much as a single person can be responsible for merging a multi-billion dollar world-wide media conglomerate, the credit has to go to him. Ross sought to create an American company that could stand up to Japanese conglomerates Sony and Matsushita, then buying into Hollywood and taking over other media businesses in the United States. The merger was advertised as a combination of equals and at first Ross and J. Richard Monro of Time, Inc. were listed as Co-Chief Operating Officers. But this "sharing of power" proved short-lived; within a year Ross stood alone atop his media colossus.

When Ross died in December of 1992, the actual day-to-day running of Time Warner fell to his protege, Gerald M. Levin. Levin inherited and thereafter expanded some of Ross' bold experiments. In September 1992, for example, Ross initiated New York 1 News, a 24-hour local cable channel for one million subscribers living on Manhattan Island. Ross knew such a proposition would be expensive, but New York City was his home town and he planned for journalistic giant, Time, Inc., to help make a 24-hour local cable TV news operation profitable. New York 1 News represents an experiment on a grand scale only Time Warner could attempt. Here the largest media company in the world, in the largest media market in the United States, under the close glare of Madison Avenue's advertising experts, tries to make "the future" profitable now. With the close involvement of The New York Times, New York 1 News represents one significant case by which future "information superhighway" watchers will judge the success (or failure) of the new age of mass communications.

Another telling experiment is Time Warner's Orlando, Florida trial, providing full service, 500-channel cable television to 4000 homes. The offering is complete with video games and movies on demand, multiple interactive shopping channels, and information including news and reference guides. All these options are available to individual homes as desired.

Technical innovation and corporate synergy stand at the center of Time Warner's future. Can the company truly bring the world of 500 channels to the 100 million living rooms in the United States and then to billions more around the world? Can Time Warner's book and magazine divisions really generate new television shows and make long promised corporate synergy profitable? And can Gerald Levin negotiate these future forays while still paying off the billions of dollars of corporate debt accumulated as part of the Time Warner merger? Most importantly, can the company successfully implement still greater expansion? The 1996 merger with Turner Broadcasting propels Time-Warner into yet another level of corporate complexity, filled with potential for even greater involvement in the construction of world-wide media systems--and with potential financial disaster.

The jury is still out. The future of Time Warner is unclear as the 20th century ends. Gerald M. Levin, the hand picked successor, will need all his skills to navigate the new promised land of 500 cable TV channels. He has announced that Time Warner will offer telephone service to businesses in New York City and has formed an alliance with "Baby Bell" U.S. West to offer both cable and telephone service in the Rocky Mountain states. Other possible investments in foreign cable TV businesses and new television networks have also been mentioned. Levin will be judged on whether these ventures turn profitable. In the meantime we must judge Time Warner as a bold corporate experiment in progress. Is it a venture successful only in building huge debt or a farsighted sequence of mergers which resulted in a new type of media conglomerate that redefined the television industry?

-Douglas Gomery


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_______________. "Jerry's Deal." The New Yorker (New York), 19 February 1996.

Byron, Christopher. The Fanciest Dive: What Happened When the Giant Media Empire of Time/Life Leaped Without Looking Into the Age of High-tech. New York: Norton, 1986.

Corliss, Richard. "Time Warnter's Head Turner." Time (New York), 11 September 1995.

Clurman, Richard M. To The End Of Time: The Seduction And Conquest of a Media Empire. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Fabrikant, Geraldine. "Government Review of Turner-Time Deal." The New York Times, 10 October 1995.

Greenwald, John. "Hands Across the Cable: The Inside Story of How Media Titans Overcame Competitors and Egos to Create a $20 Billion Giant." Time (New York), 2 October 1995.

Lander, Mark. "Time Warner and Turner Seal Merger: After 5 Weeks, a $7.5 Billion Stock Deal." The New York Times, 23 September 1995.

Oneal, Michael. "The Unlikely Mogul: Can Jerry Levin Keep a Grip on Time Warner? Don't Count Him Out Yet." Business Week (New York), 11 December 1995.

Roberts, Johnnie L. "An Urge to Merge: Foxes in the Chicken Coop." Newsweek (New York), 11 September 1995.

_______________. "Time's Uneasy Pieces." Newsweek (New York), 2 October 1995.

United States Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law. Time-Warner Merger: Competitive Implications. Hearing Before The Committee. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1989.


See also Levin, Gerald; Turner Broadcasting Systems; Turner, Ted