Sunday, May 25, 2008

CNN/TBS's Historic 1988-1996 Profitability & Labor Record

(The following article first appeared in the February 2, 1994 issue of the now-defunct alternative newsweekly, Downtown, when CNN was still controlled by Ted Turner.)

After Billionaire Ted Turner decided to save his CNN/TBS media conglomerate from bankruptcy in the 1980s by sharing control of CNN/TBS with Time Warner, Tele-Communications Inc. and the other U.S. pay-TV cable operators, CNN’s profitability increased greatly. As Forbes (1/4/93) observed, CNN/TBS’s 1992 net income was “estimated at $105 million on revenues of $1.7 billion, more than double the revenue of 1988” and “in 1991 CNN alone earned more than any of the broadcast networks” (i.e. than CBS, NBC and ABC). By then, the CNN subsidiary produced about 30 percent of CNN/TBS’s annual revenues and by 1991 the CNN “alternative media” operation was valued at about $1.5 billion.

Between 1992 and 1996, CNN/TBS’s total worth was also expected to jump from $5 billion to $11 billion, while its net annual income was expected to increase from $105 million/year to $335 million/year. [So, not surprisingly, in October 1996 the Time Warner media conglomerate decided it would be profitable to fully acquire Turner’s CNN/TBS media conglomerate and add CNN to the Time Warner media monopoly’s stable of mainstream corporate media properties].

One additional reason CNN had become so profitable by the 1990s was that it had tended to reflect Ted Turner’s anti-labor political bias in its employment and business practices. As Through Jaundiced Eyes: How The Media View Organized Labor by William Puette noted, an American University graduate student study reported that interviews with then-AFL-CIO president Lane Kirland were “never granted to the nonunion Cable News Network, whose owner Ted Turner, has made clear his dislike for unions.” And as CNN: The Inside Story revealed:

“To get around unions in the bureaus, CNN had been using subcontractors who hired people to run cameras and crews—such as Mobile Video, run by Sheldon Levy, who had been CNN’s first subcontractor in Washington, D.C. If those employees voted for a union, then CNN could simply cancel its contract (which, eventually, was what happened in the case of Mobile Video) and go to another outfit.”

(Downtown 2/2/94)

Next: CNN Founder Ted Turner’s Personal Wealth In 1994