A Winner Never Quits
Maxim|January - February 2021
How adventurous billionaire Ted Turner invented the 24-hour news cycle
By Keith Gordon

When media mogul Ted Turner launched his Cable News Network on June 1st, 1980, it marked a water-shed moment for the information age. Despite initial public skepticism, CNN’s unique around-the-clock news coverage not only changed the television news industry, it altered our entire society and set it on a course it would travel for the next four decades.

After the public’s adoption of CNN and the 24-hour news cycle, no longer were people willing to wait for the evening news for updates on current events. They wanted it immediately. Likewise, no longer would they be satisfied with checking stock prices, weather forecasts and sports results in the morning newspaper. Society’s demand for information, and the expectation that it be available instantly and constantly, can be at least partially attributed to the prescience and intuition Turner showed in founding CNN. Many point to CNN’s coverage of Operation Desert Storm as a pivotal point in bringing the channel, and the need for 24-hour news coverage, to a huge segment of America. But its impact can be felt constantly, even when war is not raging live from the other side of the globe.

Turner also set the stage, purposefully or not, for a society even more amenable to the introduction of the internet and its subsequent acceleration of the information age. From late-night work emails to mobile notifications, and social media to streaming media, CNN helped make the public comfortable with, and eventually demanding of, the ability to get the information they want, anytime they want it. Simply, Turner did far more than mold a cable news channel, he helped shape the 24-hour society we inhabit in the 21st century.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1938, Turner went on to study at Brown University, although he departed in 1959 without completing his degree, to work for his father’s Turner Advertising Company. It’s at this time that the tale of Ted Turner’s rise to billionaire, global media icon and revered conservationist began, albeit cloaked in unspeakable tragedy and personal loss.

Turner’s father took his own life in March of 1963. In the aftermath of the shock and fallout this caused, Turner took over as President of Turner Advertising Company. With the tenacity for which he would later be known, Turner had stabilized the business by the end of the decade, and set his sights on a new industry—television. His first move after renaming the family business Turner Communications Group was to purchase two independent UHF television stations in the Atlanta and Charlotte markets. If this first foray into television was Turner dipping his toes in the water, then he jumped offthe deep end with his creation of Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) in 1976.

TBS was the first “superstation” in the United States, as its content was beamed nationwide with satellite technology. Revolutionary, it would serve as a pioneer in the nascent cable television revolution, and Turner would follow by creating several other successful networks including CNN2 (now Headline News) in 1982, Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1988, Cartoon Network in 1992 and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in 1994.

TBS and TNT remain some of the biggest names in cable television, which alone would give Turner an outsized impact on the television industry from both a distribution and business model perspective. But his creation of CNN would see a flood of around-the-clock competitors follow in its wake. Consider Fox News and MSNBC in news, and CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg in finance. Once he had dived headfirst into the unknown of 24-hour news, it seemed there was no shortage of others now eager to follow the trail he had boldly blazed.

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