Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cable News Network


Fact File:

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:

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

the day.

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

same purpose.

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

become worldwide.


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


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