The profile of communications mogul Ted Turner is getting higher every day


No one seems to have much noticed it, but Ted Turner is not so subtly taking over the world -- or at least the world of communication.

It isn't just that CNN is available via satellite in 137 countries or that Mr. Turner can put on his own poor man's Olympic Games every four years with the Goodwill Games and inspire global participation.

That doesn't begin to describe the influence suddenly wielded by a guy once dubbed the Mouth of the South but now looking more like the Georgia Giant.

Pretty soon, he may own just about everything worth owning, infiltrating and attempting to control America's television viewing habits in the process. He has, some would say, single-handedly changed the face of television news through CNN and earned a power position in the TV industry second to none.

Mr. Turner controls four networks (CNN, CNN Headline News, TNT and TBS) available to nearly every basic cable subscribing household in the United States. On Oct. 1, he will add a fifth network with the launch of the Cartoon Channel, a 24-hour spot offering animation and nothing but.

But even that is not enough.

Since Mr. Turner doesn't want your viewing of his programming to stop once you leave the house, he has taken steps to ensure that he follows you throughout your daily routine and vacation travels.

Mr. Turner operates the Checkout Channel, available in 150 supermarkets nationally and beaming customized Turner Broadcasting features to captive shopper-viewers waiting in line.

The Airport Channel is another specially tailored service of CNN and Headline News available at airline departure gates, baggage claim areas and concession stands at six major airports nationally.

Before year's end, there also will be McDTV, servicing McDonald's patrons with news bites to accompany bites of their Big Macs. And while working off that fast food, the Fitness Channel soon will be test-marketed via health clubs in six cities with a health-and-fitness program agenda.

And don't think you can get away from Mr. Turner if you happen to be in the air, as fliers of American Airlines can attest from viewing an in-flight version of Headline News. Mr. Turner also has made deals to follow consumers onto cruise ships and into movie theaters.

All this, plus Mr. Turner holds the majority interest in what may be the most talented team in major league baseball, the Atlanta Braves; he owns the MGM film and cartoon library; he recently purchased cartoon giant Hanna-Barbera Productions and its massive library of 'toons -- and he is married to Jane Fonda.

Yet more than any of this, it's the way folks have taken to viewing Mr. Turner as a visionary of his times rather than just another brash communications maverick who makes his growth in influence appear so impressive.

The man once dismissed as an impulsive rogue, a blustery ignoramus, will be honored Aug. 30 with the Governor's Award at the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony. It recognizes his

influence on the television industry.

Television critics already had voted Mr. Turner an award as the person with the biggest impact on television in the 1980s.

Environmentalists also point to Mr. Turner as a broadcast industry trailblazer for their cause, because Mr. Turner has been producing programming concerned with our dwindling global resources and ecological future since the mid-1970s. That was long before it became fashionable, much less a political campaign issue.

TV writers at a July press conference asked Mr. Turner if he had plans to run for president.

"The terrible fear would be, what would happen if I won, you know, then what would I do?" Mr. Turner asked. "I might win. That would be a scary thing."

Of course, Mr. Turner already has a little to keep him busy. His profile, like that of his numerous broadcast holdings, seems to swell by the day. Yet he doesn't view himself as some omnipotent god.

"I'm just here doing my job," Mr. Turner said with his trademark aw-shucks sincerity. "I just get up in the morning, shave and shower, and get dressed like everybody else. I'm not trying to do anything spectacular."

Mr. Turner has been able to build his staggering empire and achieve such a respected reputation because he isn't afraid to take monumental gambles that seem at the time to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Nearly everyone thought CNN would go belly up in a year or two when Mr. Turner launched it in 1980. All-news just wouldn't work, they said. Little more than a decade later, it has a potential international viewership in the billions.

Few expected TNT to stick around long, either, when it debuted four years ago. It was reasoned that cable systems were already oversaturated. Channel capacity had topped out. There simply was no room.

Today, TNT is available in some 57 million homes, 40 million more than at its launch.

Now Mr. Turner is churning out the new Cartoon Channel, unlikely to top a paltry 5-million-home penetration level at its launch. While it has a massive cartoon inventory from which to draw, it's diving into a difficult cable environment.

Already, the experts are saying it will never work, that Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel are too popular with kids, that cable systems can't make room for it even if they want to, that offering 24 hours of cartoons is insane.

But don't bet against Ted.

Mr. Turner has had his bombs, of course, such as the 1984 MTV-styled slop called the Cable Music Channel. It was an instant flop, and Mr. Turner wisely cut his losses and dismantled the channel in less than a month.

His Goodwill Games ventures have lost Mr. Turner millions. And a hostile takeover of CBS eight years ago never developed.

But most of the time, Mr. Turner gets what he wants.

The Oval Office, however, will have to wait until he's finished frying these other fish.

"I found out Camp David is only 110 acres," Mr. Turner noted in his recent talk. "I mean, that's just too small for me to go to on weekends. I'm used to a bigger spread."

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