Anaheim, Calif. -- Gerald Levin has reason to be happy Ted Turner doesn't own
a time machine. The AOL Time Warner Inc. CEO might have been out of a job.
If he could do it all over again, Turner would not sell Turner Broadcasting
System Inc. to Time Warner Inc., he told a Western Show audience Wednesday.
'I would have bought Time Warner four or five years ago and fired Gerry,'
Turner said during a taping of his oral history for a video for The Cable
Turner had the audience rolling in an hour-long interview with
CableFAX founder Paul Maxwell that presented many sides of the Cable News
Network and TBS creator, from sad and introspective to comical and
Turner predicted that consolidation would leave the industry with only two
supersized MSOs and four or five programming entities. Broadcasters will succeed
in winning the digital must-carry battle, Turner said.
AT&T Corp. will be gone within two or three years, Turner predicted. If
AOL Time Warner is successful in buying AT&T Broadband, Cox Communications
Inc. and Comcast Corp. will be forced to merge, he added.
'The game is over because, like it or not, when you own all of the real
estate on the board and there's nobody left to pay rent, you win,' Turner said.
'All you have to do is go on the floor at the convention center today. It looks
like Kosovo, or Afghanistan.'
Other highlights from Turner's remarks:
On AOL Time Warner: '[It] doesn't have the same commitment to pro-social
programming that I did. They're basically closing down serious
On Levin: 'He said to me, `Ted, you're my best friend.' I said, `Gerry, I've
never even been in your home. If I'm your best friend, who's your second-best
On his bison ranch: 'I'm hoping that Gerry doesn't get control of that so he
can fire me from that, too. I'll do everything I can to keep everything else I
have out of his hands, because he's got most of what I care about right
On keeping license fees low: 'We never tried, like ESPN and some of the other
networks, [to] screw you to the wall. If I get 10 percent and the cable
operators get 90 percent, that would be OK for me. ABC/ESPN want 50 percent --
they want half your money. I just want a little bit.'
On why he launched Cable Music Channel in 1984 and folded it a month later:
MSOs 'needed somebody to leverage MTV [MTV: Music Television], so they said,
`Ted, do us a favor and start a music channel and announce that you're not going
to charge any fees, and that way we can negotiate a better deal with MTV.''
MTV ended up lowering its rates. 'We built up a lot of goodwill on the part
of people like [then-Tele-Communication Inc. chairman John] Malone and the other
big cable operators that felt they were being screwed by MTV.'
On the early days at TBS: 'We were like Christopher Columbus. When he left
Spain to seek the New World, he didn't know where he was going when he left, he
didn't know where he was when he got there, and he didn't know where had been
when he got back.'
On how Fidel Castro's fondness of CNN motivated Turner to expand
internationally: 'I said if Fidel Castro can't do without CNN, we ought to be
able to sell this all over the world. The idea really started with a commie
On never acquiring a broadcast network: 'I'm not going to sit here and be
waddling in my career failure because I didn't get one of the big networks. It
didn't work exactly like I wanted, but I still did OK. I ain't going to
apologize to nobody.'