NBC officials, whose offer to buy 50% of Ted Turner's Cable News Network recently was rejected by Turner, once also discussed teaming up with Reuters news service to create a cable news system in competition with CNN, the president of NBC News says.
But that is all in the past, says Lawrence Grossman, and NBC now will definitely go it alone if it establishes a cable news operation. The operation would start either next June or July if NBC gets the support it seeks from the nation's cable-TV operators.
Should the proposal become a reality, Grossman emphasizes, no outside partners will be involved: "That is not the way we are proceeding and not the way we're going to proceed."
The possible NBC-Reuters tie was reported in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, which cited "an internal business plan" of NBC in which the network was considering limited partners or a joint venture for a cable news operation that would compete with CNN.
Under one scenario, the paper said, NBC would own 44% to 55% of the new system, Reuters would own 30% to 35%, and an unidentified cable operator would own 10% to 20%.
A Reuters spokesman said Wednesday that NBC and the news service had talked about a new cable news system last summer, but that Reuters had "indicated that it was not interested in taking an equity position" in the proposed operation.
NBC, in a prepared statement, said that The Journal's story appeared based on a draft memo that the network "prepared last summer for internal review. It (the story) is dated in substantial respects. For example, NBC is not considering any partnership arrangements for its proposed cable news venture."
Last week, after two months of negotiations, Turner Broadcasting System, which owns CNN, rejected what Turner said was NBC's $200 million offer to buy 50% of his Atlanta-based cable news operation, which says it serves 33.5 million homes.
NBC insisted on complete editorial control, and "I just couldn't do that to the people of CNN," Turner told reporters.
NBC last month asked the nation's cable-TV operators for comment on its proposed cable news operation. It had planned to decide on Dec. 16 whether it would start that operation. But a spokesman said Wednesday that the date has been pushed up to Jan. 31.
It wasn't the only postponement announced this week.
On Monday, Turner Broadcasting System sought and got a delay--from December to mid-January--for its planned $1.5 billion acquisition of MGM/UA in Culver City. It cited ongoing negotiations to sell some of the studio's assets to Viacom International as the reason for the delay.
But Grossman said that there was no connection between NBC's new date of decision and TBS' action.
"That (NBC's delay) had nothing to do with it," he said. During NBC's negotiations with Turner, he explained, it seemed apparent that cable TV operators were uncertain what would happen and "nobody was going to make any commitments to us" during those talks.
With that uncertainty ended by Turner's Nov. 21 rejection of NBC, he said, the network wanted additional time to get a fresh reading on the degree of support by cable operators for NBC's proposed cable news service. Hence NBC's new decision date.
Grossman, interviewed Wednesday by telephone from New York, was asked if there positively, absolutely will be no more negotiations between NBC and Turner.
"Certainly not as far as I know," he replied. "He's turned down our conditions and our offer is off the table."
He was asked about rumors that the flamboyant Atlantan, miffed at NBC's demands and disappointed by the outcome of negotiations, had disclosed the network's earlier talks about cable news with Reuters.
"I believe Turner got hold of a very early discussion paper we had" and made it available to The Journal, the NBC News chief said. "That's my understanding, but who knows? We had been talking to an awful lot of people . . . not just Reuters."
Art Sando, a spokesman for Turner Broadcasting System, chuckled. He said that "to my knowledge, we did not slip it (the draft memo)" to The Journal. In fact, he said, a reporter from the paper "called me at home last night and asked if we'd seen it."