Ted Turner, often headlined as the mercurial Ted Turner, resigned from AOL/Time Warner today. He founded CNN, married Jane Fonda, merged his company with Steve Chase’s AOL, then bought Time Warner, divorced Jane Fonda and today, got the hell out of Dodge on the day that AOL/TW posted the largest loss ever in Corporate America.
The stock folks thought that AOL/TW would be the ultimate media synergy of Warner Bros. films, Time/Life news and mags, AOL’s online ownership of souls and CNN’s jack into the back of the rest of the world’s head as a news source of record.
It turned out that it had AOL’s fiscal management, Warner Bros. news gathering skill, Time Inc.’s personality and CNN as some sort of third arm grafted onto the forehead dangling in space, grasping at Gerry Levin’s stray eyebrow hairs.
The concept of media synergy is not a bad one. Own the creation of news and entertainment, own the pipe(s) and own the presses. Cross-plug the shit out of anything the other arms do to the point of ignoring any other competitor. So far, the media synergy thang has eluded the best minds.
MSNBC is, if not a dismal failure, at least as enjoyable as watching gelatine firm up. The Fox Networks have no internet presence. Sony Pictures/Columbia just do hardware and software, owning a smattering of cable companies. AOL/TW was supposed to be it and it ain’t.
Ideally, you would want something like AT&T, who owns gobs of pipes for phones and cable, cross-bred with Time Inc. or Gannett (USA Today) who know how to feed the news monster, and a Fox type network (no shame and big balls) paired with a string of internet portals, like Google and Yahoo and MSN with some slate.com and Earthlink. Notice the internet side of the house. More than one ‘brand’. Make them compete like wet cats in a sack. Fight like insane clowns with unlimited access to a tree chipper.
Could that produce a media synergy giant? Quite possibly. Add a studio, like New Line or Sony, a cell phone manufacturer, like Nokia and the new giant could be the only source for news, entertainment, communications and online porn. Buy ads on one arm and you get ads everywhere. Then sell the whole freakin’ thing to GM who wants desperately out of the car business and you’ve got a winner for business.
Not for us, who will be getting a dozen CD’s with our cars and five more blown in each day with our newspaper. Oh and popup ads on our cellphones. At this point media synergy will reach critical mass. The Mass will go and find the media and be very critical, along the lines of ‘shove it where the sun don’t shine’.
We like our media fragmented, so we get what seems like objective reporting and differing points of view. Rogers Inc. here in Canada, owns a huge whack of cable companies, AT&T, a ton of radio stations and probably your next door neighbour. The National Post owns everything else, while BellGlobeMedia has TV tied up tight. Essentially, three companies tell us what to think, buy and feel.
Our exception is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In American terms, CBC is a less socialist NPR and PBS, but with ads. Which means you don’t get the strap-the-rat-cage-on-my-head Pledge Week. The CBC is not allowed to own cable companies, bookstores, or cellular carriers.
The Corp. (CBC) usually performs its job as a critic of the government and observer of the human condition with a fair amount of objectivity, patterned more on the BBC line of reporting the news, rather than tarting it up in a leather bra for ratings (“Five dead in Lackawanna…tape at Ten!). It covers sports well enough if you like hockey, fancy skating, curling and show jumping.
Is media synergy doable? Not in a way that we’d like. But someone else is going to try. It just won’t be Excellent Ted.