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TURNER RALLIES CABLERS IN ASSAULT ON MURDOCH

NEW ORLEANS — Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner capped off an otherwise routine National Cable Television Assn. convention Wednesday with a diatribe against News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and a proclamation that the cable industry will rally around DBS service Primestar Partners in a defensive action against Murdoch’s launch of ASkyB.

Turner told cablers gathered in New Orleans that Tele-Communications Inc. chairman John Malone flew in for a secret meeting Wednesday morning with members of Primestar Partners. The meeting was held to develop a strategy to counter Murdoch’s pending launch of ASkyB, Turner said.

Primestar, which is jointly owned by Time Warner, TCI, Comcast and Cox, has been plagued by infighting concerning business strategies. But Turner told cablers the partners will now put their differences behind them. “We are going to start working together real close,” Turner said.

Comcast’s (TITLE ?) Brian Roberts refused to comment about the meeting with Malone, saying it was one of several held Wednesday concerning the DBS matter. During a meeting Sunday, NCTA board members also discussed the issues raised by the impending launch of ASkyB.

While it has been well known for more than a year that Murdoch planned to launch a DBS service, it was News Corp.’s recently announced partnership with Echostar that set the cable industry on its ear. The deal greatly expands ASkyB’s channel capacity, lending credibility to Murdoch’s plan of offering local TV stations in a programming package that includes traditional cable fare. Cablers now see the launch of ASkyB as a real threat to their market share.

Unlike News Corp.’s ASkyB, which plans to market itself as an alternative to cable, Primestar has tried to complement its owners’ interests in the cable industry. One example is its Cable Plus service, designed to add channels via satellite to homes served by systems that have room for fewer than 40 channels.

Much of Turner’s comments, which were made in the context of an onstage interview conducted by CNN’s Larry King, focused on Turner’s open animosity for Murdoch. “(Murdoch) wants to see that our children and grandchildren don’t go to college. He wants to take our money,” said Turner, a multibillionaire.

Turner told an appreciative crowd of cablers that Murdoch is motivated by a sense of impending mortality. “He is 69, he could go at any time,” Turner said, adding, “He could have a stroke or a heart attack.” Asked by King if he was wishing for Murdoch’s demise, Turner replied: “I’m not wishing for it. I’m hoping for it.”

Turner also said Murdoch not only was a danger to the cable industry, but a threat to democracy itself. “He wants to control the government,” Turner said. As evidence, he pointed to the $4.5 million advance Murdoch’s HarperCollins Publishing offered House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1995. Although Gingrich signed with HarperCollins, he declined the advance. The book eventually earned less than $500,000 for Gingrich.

Turner also told cablers that Time Warner and US West still are actively negotiating an agreement that would allow their companies to end their partnership. US West currently owns 25% of Time Warner subsidiary Time Warner Entertainment. The relationship between the two companies suffered a setback when Time Warner bought Turner Broadcasting System in a deal that excluded the TWE subsidiary. US West claimed in an unsuccessful lawsuit last year that the deal violated its agreement with Time Warner.

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