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If you like Ted Turner's story, you might also like:
Steve Case,
Ray Dalio,
Michael Dell,
Michael Eisner,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
Larry King,
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Dennis Washington

Ted Turner is also featured in the Audio Recordings area of this web site.

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Ted Turner
Ted Turner
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Ted Turner Interview (page: 2 / 7)

Founder, Cable News Network

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  Ted Turner

What motivated you to create CNN?

Ted Turner Interview Photo
Ted Turner: Before I even had the Superstation on the satellite, I was thinking. Cable was brand new, and technically, it only had 12 channels. Four or five of them would be broadcast stations, and they'd bring in other broadcast stations with a tall antenna, but except for HBO, it didn't have any other programming until WTBS came along. I read all the magazines, and it said cable was going to get more channels. They were going to go from 12 channels to 30 channels. They basically could have unlimited channels eventually. This was in the middle '70s. I bought the station in January of 1970, merged it, and we didn't go on the satellite until 1976. So this was '75. I said, "What would be something else that people would want to see?" I thought about a full time sports channel, but I said "Nah! Full time sports channel during the day? What would they run during the daytime?" They could run reruns of games, but who really wants to see reruns of a game that took place two years ago? So I thought, and ESPN filled that niche, but they were several years later. So I said that won't work.

I said, "Obviously, a movie station will work 24 hours a day," and HBO was already planning to go up there, and they went up about a year before we did. The Superstation was the second channel to go on the satellites, after HBO. I said, "24-hour movies, that will clearly work." And I thought. I said, "You know, 24-hour news would work, too. That would probably be the next channel," because we only had the news for a couple hours a day then. The CBS Morning News and Today Show ran for two hours from seven to nine, and then the next network newscast wasn't until seven at night, and it was only 30 minutes long. Then there was a local newscast at 11:00. I never got home until eight o'clock or after, and I always went to bed at ten. There was no ten o'clock newscasts, because there were no independent stations hardly. Maybe there was one in New York or something, but they weren't widespread -- New York and L.A. So we didn't have a ten o'clock newscast, not even a local newscast. We had nothing. So I never saw television news, except sometimes a few minutes in the morning, and I thought, "Boy, wouldn't it be nice for all the other people, you know, that get home late at night."

[ Key to Success ] Vision

TBS was the first 24-hour, seven-day-a-week channel, the first channel that ever went 24/7, and the idea with that was that we had mostly old black-and-white movies and black-and-white series, and at a time when all the television programs and new programs were all in color. So we weren't exactly in a position to be the first channel you turned on. We didn't have The Tonight Show or anything like that. So I said, "One thing we could do is -- if we were on all night, seven days a week -- there are some people that have insomnia, and when they get up and click around for something to watch, we will be the only thing on, and what will happen is, if they watch a movie during the night, they will turn the TV set off, and when they turn the set back on in the morning, it will be on Channel 17, and maybe they will watch us in the morning."

[ Key to Success ] Vision

So you thought 24-hour news would do that?

Ted Turner: Twenty-four-hour news? I thought it was a no-brainer. It was something you could afford to do. It really doesn't cost that much more to do 24 hours of news than it does two-and-a half hours of news. You've got to have the news gathering organization. You have to have basically the same stories, but you need more stories and more different kinds of programs if you're going to do 24-hour news, unless you're going to do something like Headline News, which is basically a half-hour rolling format that you tune in and out of, and you don't expect somebody to stay with it more than a half an hour. But if you want people to have an opportunity to watch for extended periods of time, you need programs like Larry King Live and debate programs like what used to be Crossfire. You need financial reporting. You need extended sports reporting, if you're going to do a good job. Basically, there's a number of cable news networks now, but we were the only one in the beginning. I didn't think it was hard to figure out how it should be formatted and what it should do. The main thing it was going to provide is news availability when people had a chance to watch it, rather than when the networks wanted people to watch it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

I'm sure a lot of people told you, 'That won't work! No one wants to watch news all day!"

Ted Turner: I didn't expect them to watch news all day. I thought some people would watch news all day. There are some people that do watch news all day. There are some people that watch the home shopping channels all day! Help!

So it was the convenience of having it there when you wanted it, when you needed it. Some people scoffed and said only networks can really afford to cover the news. How did you get around that?

Ted Turner: Just doing it.

Doing it cheaper?

Ted Turner: Let's just assume a lot less expensive. Let's not say cheaper. We didn't have the budget. You can't spend what you don't have, although we did spend a lot of money that we didn't have, and it took five years and $250 million in losses before it finally started breaking even.

When did you know this was going to be something really substantial and important?

Ted Turner: When I made the decision to do it, about a year before it went on the air, there was no question in my mind. Now the only question was: Would I run out of resources before it turned the corner? There was no way I could know about that until I went ahead and did it, because I didn't have enough capital to see it through. But in my study of history, Erwin Rommel in the desert never had enough petrol for his offensives against the British to finish them. He had to depend on capturing fuel supplies from the British by attacking so quickly and catching them off guard that they would retreat and leave some petrol for him to finish. It was dicey, and it didn't always work, but I knew that was what I was going to have to do. I was going to have to hit hard and move incredibly fast. And that's what we did: moved so fast that the networks wouldn't have time to respond, because they should have done this, not me, but they didn't have any imagination, or didn't have adequate imagination.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Within a few years, some dramatic things happened in the world that are inextricably linked with CNN in our minds: the Challenger disaster, the first Gulf War...

Ted Turner: Tiananmen Square. Oh yeah. We became the news of record all over the world. It was the first global network, CNN. I went out and sold it all over the world. There is not a country that doesn't have CNN. Even North Korea has it. It's the most widely distributed product on the planet, more than Coca Cola and Marlboro cigarettes.

The advent of new satellite technology enabled you to do the news from anywhere, even a Baghdad hotel room in the middle of a war. Could you tell us about that?

Ted Turner: Well, portable satellite receivers and portable satellite send stations were developed. At first, they were very large, but very quickly, they shrunk in size, just like cell phones and everything else. Look how fast film disappeared. Digital cameras? When I first saw a digital camera 20 years ago, I said, "Sell Kodak short," and Kodak has almost gone broke, but I didn't invest in it. I just invested in my own company, until recently.

When did you foresee that you would be able to have reporters anywhere, anytime, with this mobile satellite technology?

Ted Turner: Well, even if we hadn't had the capability before, we had the capability to go live from anywhere. I can't remember exactly what year that was because it developed over a period of time.

Ted Turner: You had to get the story, and videotape had pretty much replaced film already, and it was instantaneous. So you had to get the tape to the closest transmission point, whether it was telephone lines or satellite. We tried to use satellite, but we didn't always use satellite at the very beginning because it wasn't always available. So we used whatever method we could. If we had to do it, we'd put the tape on a plane and fly it back to the closest place where we could transmit from.

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This page last revised on Nov 20, 2007 19:05 EDT
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