Anaheim, Calif. - In what seemed to be a kind of sign-off from the cable
industry, an impassioned Ted Turner today ruefully acknowledged he should never
have allowed Turner Broadcasting to merge with Time Warner and said one of his
biggest regrets was not buying Time Warner first, 'so I could have fired Jerry
Levin before he fired me.'
When Turner sold his Turner Broadcasting Systems to Time Warner in 1997,
Turner had carved out a slot as vice chairman of the company.
The position gave him no direct management responsibilities, but a sizeable
voice in the company's strategy and a platform for Ted to be Ted.
But when Time Warner in turn sold out to AOL, Turner's role was instantly
diminished and when his contract expires in December the company won't renew
'I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would actually lose my job, but
it happened,' Turner said.
'My advice to younger people in the room is be real careful who you sell your
Speaking at the Western Show luncheon in Anaheim, Turner said that Levin now
owns 'all I care about'- except his land out West and his children.
Turner recalled that Levin said 'Ted, you're my best friend. I said, `I'm
your best friend? Jerry, I've never been in your home. If I'm your best friend,
who's your second best friend?' '
But he agreed that at one time 'I was his friend, I would have had a hard
time firing him. At that time.'
Turner acknowledged that he was naive when he sold TBS to Time Warner.
Because it was a stock swap he wound up with 9% of the combined companies.
'Jerry thought he bought me, I thought I bought them. But 9% was not 51.... I
guess I got a little overconfident.'
Turner also said he believed that in the near future, perhaps within a year,
only two cable MSO's would survive and only about four or five programmers.
'That's why,' he said as he toured the Western Show convention floor this
morning, 'it looks like Kosovo or Afghanistan' - a landscape of 'big holes'
where there used to be exhibitors.
Turner made his remarks at a lunch advertised as an oral history. He aimed
other broadsides at Fox and ESPN, the latter which he said 'screwed cable
operators to the wall,' because of the fees it charges for carriage.
Turner also said that at some point in his career he was 'a handshake away,'
from owning each of the three major broadcast networks.
He blamed Levin for stopping the NBC deal, which he said hurt him deeply.
'I was very brokenhearted when Jerry vetoed the NBC acquisition,' in which
TBS would have bought the network for $5 billion.
Turner said that 'Malone voted for it.'