TURNER BROADCASTING SYSTEM

U.S. Media Conglomerate

Over the course of three decades, Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) has grown from a regional outdoor advertising firm into one of the world's largest and most successful media conglomerates. Beginning in the late 1960s, Ted Turner changed his father's company, Turner Advertising, first into Turner Communications Company and then into Turner Broadcasting System. Each name change represented a stage in the building of an empire that would come to encompass broadcast television and radio, cable program services, movie and television production companies, home video, and sports teams.

TBS began with Turner's purchase of failing Atlanta UHF station, WJRJ, in 1968. He immediately renamed the station WTCG (for Turner Communications Group) and began to look for programming. What Turner found were old movies and syndicated television series, many of which he purchased outright with a view toward unrestricted future showings. He used these to counterprogram the network affiliates, going after such audience segments as children and people who did not watch the news. By the early 1970s, WTCG also offered local sports programming--first professional wrestling and then Atlanta Braves baseball, Atlanta Hawks basketball, and Atlanta Flames hockey. In 1976, Turner purchased the Braves, securing long-term access to his single most critical source of programming.

The old movies and TV programs combined with the sports coverage proved to be a formula for success. By 1972, WTCG boasted a 15% share of the Atlanta audience, and the station's signal had begun to be carried by microwave to cable systems in the Atlanta region. When Turner heard about Home Box Office's groundbreaking satellite debut in 1975, he quickly began preparations to use the same technology to extend WTCG's signal. Through a series of adroit negotiations, Turner set up (as a business separate from Turner Communications) a company called Southern Satellite Systems, Inc. to uplink WTCG's signal to an RCA communications satellite. In 1976, WTCG became the second satellite-delivered cable program service and the first satellite superstation.

The superstation was renamed WTBS in the late 1970s. In 1981 Cable News Network (CNN), the first of Turner Broadcasting System's cable-only program services, was launched. Throughout the following decade CNN branched into specialized news services, including CNN Radio, CNN International, CNN Headline News, and CNN Airport Network.

During the 1980s, strategic programming acquisitions led to more new cable ventures for Turner Broadcasting. In 1986 Turner added the entire MGM film library to his existing stock of old movies. Two years later Turner Network Television (TNT), a general-interest cable program service that features many movies, was launched. The Turner film library also supplies Turner Classic Movies, launched in 1994. Turner's 1991 acquisition of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, both the production studio and the syndication library, ensured a continuous supply of programming for both the TBS superstation and The Cartoon Network, launched in 1992. Several foreign-language versions of The Cartoon Network either exist or are being developed. Finally, in addition to the TBS superstation's established market position as a sports programming outlet, Turner Broadcasting also owns SportSouth, a regional sports programming service.

Other Turner holdings include New Line Cinema, Castle Rock Entertainment, Turner Entertainment Co., Turner Pictures Worldwide, Turner Home entertainment, Turner Publishing, Turner Educational Services, Turner Interactive, and the Atlanta Hawks.

From the earliest efforts to revamp WTCG, much of Ted Turner's television success has lay in his and his employees' ability to acquire innovative and inexpensive sources of programming and to make that programming available through as many outlets as possible. Thus Turner Broadcasting System's current holdings represent both program material--in the form of film and television libraries, production houses, and sports teams--and the means of distributing that programming.

In 1995 TBS began what may yet be its most significant negoiations when it entered into an agreement to become part of the Time-Warner media conglomerate. If approved by courts and regulatory agencies TBS would add its resources, its staff--and Ted Turner to one of the largest media organizations in the world.

-Megan Mullen

 

FURTHER READING

Amdur, Meredith. "The Boundless Ted Turner: Road to Globalization." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.), 11 April 1994.

Bibb, Porter. It Ain't As Easy As It Looks: Ted Turner's Amazing Story. New York: Crown, 1993.

Carter, Bill. "Ted Turner is Not Afraid to Turn His Personal Vision Into a Multimillion-Dollar Project for His Company." New York Times, 22 November 1993.

_______________. "Ted Turner's Time of Discontent (interview). New York Times, 6 June 1993.

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

"Europe Plan by Turner." New York Times, 9 March 1993.

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

Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald J. Goldberg. Citizen Turner: The Wild Rise Of An American Tycoon. New York: Harcourt Brace, 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.

Roberts, Johnnie L. "An Urge to Merge: Foxes in the Chicken Coop."

(New York), 11 September 1995.

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

Taub, James. "Reaching for Conquest." Channels of Communication (New York), July-August 1983.

See also Cable Networks; Cable News Network; Superstation; Turner, Ted; United States: Cable