Broadcasting executive Ted Turner indicated today that he remains interested in acquiring one of the three big television networks, and said that if he is going to launch a successful network takeover bid he will have to raise the necessary funds "in a hurry."
Turner's remarks to several hundred students at the University of Pennsylvania followed a report in The Washington Post yesterday that he told lawyers for CBS Monday that he has had extensive discussions with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and the conservative Fairness in Media group about launching a bid for control of CBS.
On Monday, the day Turner was deposed by CBS lawyers eager to learn if he plans to make a takeover bid for CBS, Capital Cities Broadcasting Inc. announced it had agreed to acquire American Broadcasting Companies Inc. for about $3.5 billion in a friendly takeover that would transfer ownership of a TV network for the first time.
Some analysts believe ABC agreed to be taken over by Capital Cities to avoid being the target of a hostile takeover effort.
Turner, who controls Cable News Network and Atlanta superstation WTBS, suggested today that he is serious about trying to raise the money it would take to launch a takeover drive for one of the networks.
"It happened a little sooner than I expected," Turner said of the announcement of the Capital Cities-ABC deal. "I didn't have my $4 billion sitting there. I might be rich, but I haven't got that kind of money. I gotta dig it up in a hurry.
"And it's going to be very difficult to do. How can I do it raise the $4 billion when I'm here making a speech? I could probably raise a couple of hundred grand here."
In an interview following the speech, Turner would not say whether or not he was actively working with Helms to raise the billions it would take to launch a hostile tender offer for CBS. He said disclosing his intentions now would be like Japan warning the United States about Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Last week, CBS Chairman Thomas H. Wyman said in a meeting with securities analysts there was "no financial substance" to reports that Turner might launch a bid for CBS. Wyman also reiterated that CBS vigorously would oppose any effort to gain control of the network.
After the meeting with analysts, Wyman said Turner did not have the "conscience" it takes to own a network.
In his remarks today, Turner assailed network executives, charging that there is too much violence on television, and said that all network executives care about is ratings.
"People that are in control of them [the networks] now care about one thing: the ratings today," Turner said. "They don't care about the long-term good of the society. Their job is to win the ratings today."
"You've got somebody in control now who doesn't give two hoots in hell about what happens to the nation or the world. All they care about is the almighty dollar.
"I do not force my opinions on my news network. I sell time to Jerry Fallwel and he is a good friend of mine."
On Monday, Turner discussed his relationship with Helms and Fairness in Media in connection with a CBS suit against the conservative group. Fairness in Media, which is supported by Helms, has said it will try to gain financial control of CBS to end what it calls the network's liberal bias.
The CBS suit charges FIM with violations of federal securities laws, improper political activities by tax-exempt organizations and illegal corporate contributions, all in connection with the caampaign to take over CBS.
"I was subpoenaed by the same lawyer at CBS who knocked out Westmoreland but he didn't knock me out," Turner said, referring to the suit against the network brought by Gen. William C. Westmoreland. "When I agreed to do this speech a couple of months ago, I didn't know that day before yesterday, that I would have driven the first network into the asylum of selling out."
"One down, two to go. You better buy one of them while they're here. One is already gone."
Sources familiar with Turner's Monday deposition said he refused to say then if he plans to launch a takeover bid for CBS on his own. Turner's lawyers advised him throughout the deposition to restrict his comments to his relationship with Helms and FIM, sources said.
The price of CBS stock surged higher again today, as speculation continued that someone will launch a bid for the network. CBS stock, which rose six points on Monday and 3 1/2 points on Tuesday, was up 7 1/2 today to 105 1/2 on 1.3 million shares.