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CNNfn-Court TV courtship annoys NBC

NEW YORK — Reports that Time Warner’s vice chairman, Ted Turner, is gung ho to merge Court TV with the struggling CNNfn have driven a wedge between Time Warner and NBC.

Cable operators began getting wind of Turner’s plan last week, when Time Warner sources said that Turner had vetoed the sale of TW’s one-third interest in Court TV to the network’s chairman and founder, Steve Brill, a turndown that caused Brill to resign. NBC owns a third of Court TV, and John Malone’s Liberty Media also owns a third.

Industry mavens are trying to figure out why Turner would want Time Warner to own one-third of a network that managed to scratch out only a feeble 0.1 primetime rating in cable homes in 1996 , pulling in just $3.5 million in cash flow, according to Paul Kagan Associates.

Dying for distribution

While almost nobody is watching the programming on Court TV, “CNNfn’s main weakness is that it desperately needs distribution” on more cable systems, says Larry Gerbrandt, a senior analyst for Kagan. Combining Court, which would run in primetime and latenight, with CNNfn, which would take over from morning through early evening, “is an interesting strategy, and it worked well for CNBC without cannibalizing” either the all-day financial news or the nighttime talkshows.

CNBC has parlayed its Jekyll-and-Hyde schedule into a glowingly healthy business, harvesting cash flow of $78 million in 1996.

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