For those who follow the machinations of the media business with the zeal of conspiracy theorists, NBC and Microsoft’s new cable news channel, MSNBC (see story, page 29), offers plenty of intrigue to chew on. One theory says NBC has targeted Ted Turner’s CNN in more ways than one – including laying the groundwork to take over the Turner empire.
NBC chairman Bob Wright has long coveted Turner Broadcasting, and it’s no secret that a year ago Wright was close to striking an alliance to merge with Turner, but the deal fell apart over issues of control.
Several months later, much to the dismay of the brass at 30 Rock, Turner agreed to merge with Time Warner and take a No. 2 role. But the Time Warner-Turner deal still isn’t a sure thing; it faces tough scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, and Time Warner’s stock continues to underperform. Meanwhile, Tele-Communications Inc. chief John Malone, a major shareholder in Turner, has been known to pull out of deals at the 11th hour.
At the same time, NBC’s news partnership with Microsoft has taken some value out of the Time Warner-Turner deal in the eyes of some on Wall Street – as has the knowledge that ABC, Rupert Murdoch and others have Turner’s news machine in their sights.
According to some industry touts, last week saw odds of a successful Time Warner-Turner merger drop from 5-1 in favor to even-steven.
Wright claims there was no Machiavellian desire to destabilize the Time Warner-Turner deal behind NBC’s plans to launch MSNBC. “We are moving forward on the assumption that the Time Warner-Turner merger will go through,” he says.
But if the merger should fall apart, would the NBC chairman be on the phone to Ted Turner in a New York minute? “I’m not going to get into any ‘what if scenarios,” says the coy NBC chairman.