How Ted Turner Became a Media Mogul- And So Can You

Posted on September 6th, by Michael Rosenblum in New Media. 5 comments

Learn from the best…

Ted Turner, self-made billionaire, media mogul and the largest land-owner in the United States did not start out with billions.

He made them himself, but he was able to do that by being able to see the implications of new technologies and get there a bit ahead of everyone else.

Turner’s media empire began in 1963, when he took over his father’s outdoor billboard company at the age of 24, following his father’s suicide.

The company, Turner Outdoor Advertising, was then worth $1 million.

Turner’s first step was to purchase an Atlanta UHF TV station, Channel 17.

For those of you not old enough to know the difference between a VHF Channel and a UHF Channel, let’s pause for a bit of explanation.

In the ‘olden days’,  TV did not come through cable (or the Internet, which strange to say, did not even exist). It came into your house through the air, a bit like phones do today, sort of.  In any event, there were two spectums (spectra?) for transmission of TV signals – VHF, which stood for Very High Frequency, and those were channels like NBC, CBS or ABC. The big ones everyone watched.  There was also UHF, for Ultra High Frequency, which required a completely different tuning nob on the TV set (and many sets didn’t even have it) and a different looped antenna on the back of the TV (likewise). Also, UHF signals didn’t go too far.  Suffice it to say that owning a UHF TV station was like owning a website that only worked on HP Tablets.  On Tuesdays. Get the concept?


But Turner could see what no one else then could see – that there was a revolution going on in technology that was going to be a basic game changer.

Specifically, he focused on the convergence of two fast-growing technologies.

The first was cable.  Cable was bringing lots of channels into people’s homes. Channels that had no content on them.  In the olden days, TV sets had about 9 channels or so. When you hooked them up to cable for the first time, pow! you suddenly had 60 channels. But what were you going to watch? There was no Discovery Channel, no ESPN. No nothing. It was blank territory.

The second technology Turner was watching was satellites.  The ‘Space Race’ was on hot and heavy and there were a lot of satellites being shot into orbit with lots of transponders with lots of excess capacity.

Turner could see that he could marry up these two technologies to change the game, and be the first one to do it.

He was ahead of everyone else.

So Turner got himself a transponder on a geo-synchronous satellite that had a footprint over most of the US.

Then he uplinked his crappy hyperlocal TV station Channel 17, that no one, not even in Atlanta watched, to the satellite and started beaming down all across America.

Then he gave satelite dishes that could receive his signal to the burgeoning cable operators at the cable heads, so they could get his content and put it on their empty cable networks.

In an instant, Channel 17 Atlanta became Turner Superstation, then TBS, the Turner Broadcasting System.

And suddenly, Channel 17 went from being watched by 25 people to being watched by 25 millions people.

It was brilliant.

And the start of a global media empire.

What Turner saw was the convergence of two growing technologies to solve a problem – what would fill cable?

Now, if we apply that same prescience to our current situation:

The explosion of iPads, iPhones, and tablet screens (yes, even HP), means a massive demand for video.

Screens demand video.

And who is going to make it? Where is it going to come from?

It isn’t going to come from NBC or Dreamworks. They take months to make an hour of video content.

Screens on phones eat it up in seconds.

So who is going to make it?


If you take a walk into any magazine store and look at the thousands of titles that get produced weekly and monthly

And you look at newspapers and you see the content that gets produced daily.

And you look at Youtube and you see the volume that gets produced by the minute (40 hours of content per minute at last count), you might be able to see the kind of convergence that Turner saw when he looked at Channel 17 and satellites and cable.

You just might.

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Every day Michael Rosenblum blogs about the latest developments in the world of video and the media as well as future trends in technology and equipment.

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