Cable News Network
Founders: Ted Turner.
Distinction: World's first live, round-the-clock, all-news television
Primary Products: TV, radio, and Internet news programs.
Annual sales: Unavailable.
Number of employees: 4,000.
Major competitors: CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News Channel.
Chairman, President and CEO: W. Thomas Johnson.
Headquarters: Atlanta, Ga.
Year founded: 1980.
Web site: www.cnn.com.
Many Americans tuned into Cable News Network for the very first time
when former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in New York, exactly
six months after the station's 1980 debut. Stunned fans-at least those in
the 1.7 million homes then capable of receiving the all-news channelfound
they could get updates on the riveting story whenever they wanted.
For those accustomed to obtaining news on TV only when the major
networks and their affiliated decided to broadcast it, this proved to be
both exhilarating and addictive.
It was not yet enough, though, to put the fledgling station on the map.
Unknown on-air personalities at its Atlanta headquarters and eight
bureaus across the United States struggled to gain respectability.
Expenses were so tight that ceiling panels sometimes crashed down
during live reports. Bargain-basement electronic equipment regularly
failed. Few viewers even knew of its existence.
But all that changed as CNN improved its resources and a series of
compelling events drove an audience to its spot on the cable dial. As U.S.
hostages were released by their Iranian captors, as an Air Florida jet slid
into Washington's icy Potomac, and as the Challenger space shuttle
exploded over Florida, more Americans accessed CNN and many found it
a credible source for 24-hour coverage of the stories that had their
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neighbors talking. By the time 18-month-old Baby Jessica tumbled into a
Texas well in 1987 and captivated the nation for 58 hours until her
successful rescue, CNN was the place to turn for breaking news. Four
years later, when Operation Desert Storm mobilized and American F-117s
began strafing Baghdad; some 11.5 million viewers were glued to its
coverage from the besieged Iraqi capital and surrounding flash points.
Today, of course, CNN is one of the world's most respected outlets
for television news. Specialized auxiliary channels focus
exclusively on headlines, finance and sports; others broadcast in
languages including Spanish and Turkish. Radio stations and an array
of Web sites have been added. Some 78 million U.S. households, and
more than a billion people worldwide, have access to at least one of its
services. And now, as its corporate parent is absorbed by the world's
largest Internet Company and aggressive competitors are just a few
remote-control clicks away, it prepares to do battle in the new
CNN first went on-air on June 1, 1980, the result of a fusion of new
technologies and the vision of a little-known entrepreneur named Ted
Turner. Before its debut, producers at the dominant Big Three networks in
New York determined when Americans would get their news. With the
advent of CNN, viewers could make that choice themselves at any hour of
Turner (whose given name is Robert Edward Turner III) was born in
Cincinnati in 1938. At age 9, his family moved to Georgia, where Robert
Edward Turner II owned a business specializing in billboard ads. After
graduating from Brown University -where he was vice president of the
debating union and commodore of the university yacht club-young Ted
took a job with the family firm as an account executive. In 1960, he
became general manager of one of Turner Advertising Company's branch
offices. Three years later, business troubles drove his father to commit
suicide and Turner assumed control of the ailing venture. As president
and chief operating officer for the next 33 years, he slowly restored it to
Inspired by his success, Turner branched out by purchasing Atlanta's
Channel 17 in 1970. Within three years, he transformed the struggling
UHF outlet into one of the country's few profitable independent stations.
But Turner still was not satisfied. When he discovered communication
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satellites he instinctively knew that they would change the lives of TV
viewers everywhere. He renamed his station WTBS, for Turner
Broadcasting System, and on December 17, 1976, became one of the first
to use this new technology to broadcast a "super station" to the coast-tocoast
cable audience now available and hungry fort content. That same
year he bought the Atlanta Braves baseball team to grab additional massappeal
programming for the station. In 1977, while he was also achieving
national recognition for piloting his yacht Courageous to victory in the
America's Cup, he purchased the Atlanta Hawks basketball team for the
The novel approach boosted Turner's TV revenues beyond his wildest
dreams, and whetted his appetite for even more cable outlets. Struck by
the lack of national news available, Turner created CNN in 1980. Two
years later he launched a companion service dubbed Headline News to
offer nothing but the day's major stories every half hour. In 1985, he
went global with CNN International.
As cable television was methodically made available in practically every
corner of the United States, Turner's various channels began building an
audience. But numerous technical glitches, an initially unknown cast of
on-air personalities, and undisguised skepticism from traditional
broadcast news outlets kept them from attaining widespread acceptance
at the start. That all changed, though, as equipment improved and
accidents faded, newscasters established followings, and Turner's
ventures consistently turned bad news into compelling TV. Lennon's
assassination in 1980, the Iranian hostage release in 1981, and the Air
Florida jet mishap in 1982 were merely the first national touchstones that
his 24-hour news sources fed to a waiting public. By the time of the 1986
Challenger explosion and 1987 Baby Jessica rescue, CNN had all the
resources ready to competently provide constant live images and a felling
of connection to the growing nationwide audience bent on following the
dramas. When tanks rolled across Tiananmen Square in 1989 and scud
missiles streaked across the Baghdad sky in 1991, viewer ship had
But Turner, now well known as a deal-maker and risk-taker, did not stand
still. A year after founding the Goodwill Games in 1985 as an alternative
to the Olympics, he purchased the MGM/UA Entertainment Company's
highly regarded library of more than 4,000 films and television shows-and
once again provided his various stations with exclusive programming that
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they could air without licensing fees. Turner incurred the wrath of
Hollywood by "colorizing" many of the classic black-and-white films
obtained in the latter deal, and the debt he sustained from both
purchases forced him to sell several assets. Nonetheless, he continued
expanding with the launch both of which also relied extensively on the
movies and shows he picked up in earlier transactions. Then, in 1996,
Turner hit the jackpot and sold everything to Time Warner Inc. for $7.5
billion. His former holdings now a subsidiary of the world's largest media
and entertainment conglomerate, Turner became vice-chairman (and
largest shareholder) of the combined company and head of its cable
CNN celebrated its 20th anniversary in Atlanta on June 1, 2000, with
fireworks and video clips of its top moments. It was preparing to move
under new ownership too, as just before the calendar turned and
Time Warner had announced that it was merging with America
Online. Turner would become vice chairman of the new AOL Time
Warner, overseeing its combined cable networks division with all the old
Turner properties, along with Home Box Office (HBO), Cinemax, the
Warner Bros. International Networks, and Time Warner's interests in
Comedy Central and Court TV. He would no longer have direct control of
these entities, however, and was said to be angered by that.
In another good-news-bad-news paradox, the big bash was held as CNN
recorded its lowest monthly ratings in nine years-a fact generally
attributed to new cable competitors, primarily CNBC, MSNBC, and the Fox
News Channel, which were luring away significant portions of its once
exclusive audience. In an attempt to boost those numbers and reduce its
reliance on major one-time events, officials began developing more
regularly scheduled programs, documentaries, and specials. They were
also hoping that AOL and its 22 million subscribers could help bring CNN
back to news domination.
CNN remains the world's number-one news network, with nine of
the 10 highest-rated news programs on U.S. basic cable and more
than 6.7 billion annual page impressions dispersed among its
various Web sites. It has the world's most widely syndicated television
newsfeed and a network of more than 600 affiliates in the United States
and Canada and 800 worldwide. And, without fear of contradiction, it can
forever lay claim to single-handedly changing the landscape of television