While Ted and Dan and Bryant and Sam and Sam's eyebrows scramble for ratings on these shores, there's already one clear victor overseas: Cable News Network. If there were any doubts about the worldwide influence of Ted Turner's 24-hour news service, the Persian Gulf crisis has erased them. CNN is clearly in the middle of the action:

Americans trapped in Kuwait report watching CNN to determine their next move.

ABC's Ted Koppel announced last week on "Nightline" that Iraqi Foreign Ministry officials are "gleaning what they can of U.S. intentions by watching CNN via satellite."

President Bush and his key advisers were pictured watching CNN in last week's Newsweek.

Although the Iraqi government has not let most journalists into the country, a CNN spokesman said Baghdad gave and continues to give CNN advance notice whenever it plans a major statement on Iraqi television, which only CNN is capable of broadcasting throughout the Middle East.

Turgut Ozal, the president of Turkey, told a CNN crew that he was watching a live interview with President Bush on CNN when Bush told reporters that he was about to call the president of Turkey. Ozal got up, walked next door to his office and picked up the ringing phone. It was Bush.

"We are -- on an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis -- the primary source of information for all the principals in the region," said Peter Vesey, director of CNN International.

Television news executives have never been choked by humility. But Vesey's boast is increasingly acknowledged by media watchers: Whenever a big story breaks around the world, CNN is often the first -- and only -- source of continuous, up-to-the-minute coverage outside of the United States.

California Gov. George Deukmejian, for example, was in West Germany when the San Francisco earthquake hit last October. Interviewed by phone by ABC and NBC soon after news of the quake reached the airwaves, Deukmejian dismayed anchors when he said he was already aware of the earthquake and the extent of the damage -- he'd been following developments on CNN. And hundreds of Chinese and Americans in Beijing watched the protest in Tiananmen Square unravel on CNN.

How does the 10-year-old network do it? With more than 1,700 employees (about twice the size of network news divisions), nine domestic and 16 international bureaus and millions and millions of Ted Turner's dollars. CNN now has, in addition to a domestic audience of 53 million, an international viewership in more than 7 million homes and 250,000 hotel rooms outside the United States. The station has become so pervasive that CNN correspondents are recognized throughout the world. Ted Koppel teases that CNN anchor Bernard Shaw is much better known abroad than he is.

"Turner was very serious when he said he wanted to create a global service," said Ed Turner, executive vice president for news gathering, who is not related to Ted Turner. "As journalists, who could object? The service works internationally because we continually expand where the other guys have been retrenching."

CNN's availability in the international market -- it is now seen in 95 countries -- is the result of the marriage of sophisticated satellite technology and a growing appetite for global news.

It began in 1980, when the domestic signal of the new network was sent via satellite to the Far East at the request of Japanese broadcasters looking for American and international news. In 1985, CNN began transmitting into Europe. Two years ago, the network expanded into Latin America and South America and -- in an agreement that allowed CNN to use Statsionar 12, a Soviet government-owned satellite -- could also be seen in the Soviet Union, the Middle East and Africa.

"Basically, we cover most of the populated earth," said Vesey.

Most of CNN's international programming originates in foreign countries but is sent back to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for packaging. Then Atlanta feeds the reports abroad, again via satellite. Some of the international stories are seen in the United States but are repeated more often in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, most of the Soviet Union, India and Pakistan. CNN's domestic signal is transmitted from Atlanta and Los Angeles to Latin America, South America, China, Japan and Australia. CNN plans to send the international programming worldwide next year.

The CNN signal is bounced off transponders on satellites hovering above the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and points in between. A transponder -- the satellite equivalent of an open phone line -- allows CNN to transmit clearly to the far corners of the earth. Each transponder costs CNN an average of $1 million per year for 24-hour transmission. CNN usually uses five transponders just to send the signal out from Atlanta; during the Persian Gulf crisis, costs have soared for additional spot reports and feeds back to Atlanta.

CNN telecasts are purchased by international companies, embassies, hotels and television companies in foreign countries. Most broadcast the service in English, although some add subtitles or translations. Most subscribers pay an annual fee for the signal, and CNN tells them which satellite is transmitting the news. But because the signal is sent unscrambled, anyone with a satellite dish can pick it up, particularly in the Middle East, where the airwaves are less cluttered. "The key is knowing where to point your dish," says Vesey.

CNN was broadcast in six hotels in Kuwait before the hostilities broke out; since there is no direct communication with the country, there is no way to confirm that those hotels and local residences are still receiving the signal. The network does not charge national leaders for the service, although embassies are technically supposed to pay for it. "I would bet you that there isn't a U.S. embassy that doesn't get us in some way or another," says Vesey.

CNN estimates it has devoted three-quarters of its programming to the Persian Gulf crisis since it began, juggling news from government, military and economic sources in the United States, Middle East and several world capitals, and has racked up its highest ratings ever in the process, despite the fact that the network has been unsuccessful in its attempts to get correspondents into Baghdad.

"It's one of those stories that's got appeal everywhere," said Ed Turner. "Americans are deeply concerned as are people in other countries. One way or another, this story is going to likely touch all of us."

But it's much easier to get the news in than out.

CNN does not own the satellite or the transponders on the satellites. They are owned by the international satellite agency Intelsat, which leases time on them. CNN typically uses up to 20 satellites to transmit around the world. While a signal can be sent into a country without the permission of its government, most news organizations need permission from the host country to transmit to the satellite. And most countries charge an "export fee" for satellite time, bringing the total transponder bill to about $100,000 per week, per country.

Intelsat currently forbids satellite transmissions from Iraq, in compliance with United Nations-endorsed economic sanctions against the country. Ted Koppel's interview with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was sent to the satellite using Iraqi TV equipment, and ABC News had to get a special waiver for the broadcast.

Koppel's broadcast may have been a coup in the U.S. ratings war, but worldwide, it hardly caused a ripple when compared with the kind of 24-hour coverage CNN is churning out. "They're {the other networks} essentially in the entertainment business that does some news. And we are in the news business," said Ed Turner. "If the news is not pretty much within the same time cycle, it's dead, dead, dead. You have to broadcast continuously for it to work live in all time zones."

It worked for Richard Lee of Buffalo. Lee, an internist doing medical research in a northern frontier district of Kenya, went into the field in mid-July -- before Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait. After two weeks with no electricity and no radios, his party emerged from the East African country and met up with two other members of the research team at the only hotel in Embu, Kenya -- the first place that had a working television, a satellite dish and CNN.

Two colleagues greeted them with, "Hey, fellas! Do you realize the world is falling apart?" Lee said. "They'd been glued to the television set the whole time."