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Media Man by Ken Auletta

This article was inspired by Ken Auletta's Media Man . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.

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Lessons from Ted Turner

“Turner relied on no business charts or profit-and-loss projections when he launched CNN. His drive to demonstrate his worth to his dead father has been a career propellant…”

Born in Cincinnati in 1938 to a successful businessman, Robert Edward (Ted) Turner III had a difficult early life. After the 15 year old Ted watched his sister die of lupus, he tried his hardest to impress his depressed father, Ed Turner. Having joined Ed’s outdoor advertising company, a job Ted didn’t enjoy, the aspiring media mogul faced further tragedy, as his father took his own life.

As he started to buy radio stations and UHF TV stations, Ted saw the promise in a new technology—communication satellites. Winning FCC approval, Ted’s Channel 17 became the first superstation. With the inception of the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), Ted Turner used his excellent salesmanship to convince cable companies to carry his station. Focusing on cartoons, movies and sports, Turner’s station carried inexpensive programming.

With his purchase of the Atlanta Braves in 1976, Turner had the TV rights to their games. He would use this strategy again, taking on basketball and hockey by purchasing the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers.

After being approached by Reese Schonfeld, Turner provided the money necessary to start up a cable network devoted solely to news. Within two years, CNN was born. By 1991, Ted was Turner was TIMEmagazine’s “Man of the Year.”

Ever ambitious, Turner set his sights on owning one of the big three networks, but after offering to buy CBS, the network didn’t give the “mouth-from-the-south” a chance. For $1.5 billion, Turner purchased the MGM film studio instead, with the 3,500 movies it had to offer. Unfortunately, the debt was too much, and Turner had to sell MGM. He did keep the movie library and created Turner Network Television and Turner Classic Movies.

After TCI and Time Inc.’s cable subsidiary bailed out Turner Broadcasting and gave Ted over $500 million in cash, the media mogul lost control of his company, and the board tried to kill his expansion projects. Despite their efforts, he secured Hanna-Barbera, an animation powerhouse that would later develop into Cartoon Network.

Accepting Gerald Levin’s offer to merge Time Warner with Turner Broadcasting, Ted Turner kept 11% in the new company, continued to manage the company and possessed two seats on the board. After careful maneuvering, Levin became the company’s only CEO.

Pledging $100 million a year for 10 years to the U.N., Turner desired to see his money help people around the world. He also donated $250 million to develop the Nuclear Threat Initiative, gave $50 million to environmentalist initiatives and bullied other billionaires into philanthropy, also. After a merger in 2000 between AOL and Time Warner formed the biggest media company in the world, the company met hard times, and Turner began selling his stocks. By 2003 he resigned as vice chairman. Perhaps Ted Turner’s greatest legacy is his commitment to using wealth to help others.


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