NBC News, rebuffed last year in its bid to buy 50% control of Ted Turner's Cable News Network, said Friday it won't start its own proposed 24-hour cable news service because of insufficient support from the nation's cable-TV operators.
"But we still want to get into the cable industry," said spokesman Bill McAndrew. He declined to say whether NBC News now will try to reopen negotiations with Turner for an NBC-CNN operation.
There have been rumors that NBC last week quietly contacted Turner representatives about reopening negotiations that ended in November, when the Atlanta-based cable-TV entrepreneur rejected NBC's offer of $200 million for 50% control of CNN.
McAndrew declined to comment on those rumors. There also was a firm "no comment" from Art Sando, a spokesman for Turner Broadcasting System, which owns CNN. The latter company says it serves 33.5 million homes and 19 foreign countries.
NBC News President Lawrence Grossman was reported out of the country Friday and unavailable for comment. However, a knowledgeable NBC source said there have been no new talks with Turner, and none are planned.
A key element in Turner's rejection of NBC's offer after two months of negotiations was the network's insistence that NBC News have full editorial control over CNN. Turner balked at this, saying, "I just couldn't do that to the people of CNN."
That still is Turner's position, Sando said. He was asked about the possibility of sharing editorial control with NBC or another company. "That always was possible," he said, adding that it still is.
Friday was NBC's self-imposed deadline for deciding whether it would attempt to compete with CNN with its own, separate cable-news operation. It had moved that deadline back from Dec. 16 after Turner rejected its offer.
Grossman has estimated that start-up costs for NBC's own cable-news operation probably would total about $70 million. He has said the network needed commitments from cable-TV operators for a minimum of 13.5 million subscribers.
Had it gotten that number, it would have started the operation in July. The first indication that the proposal was in trouble came Jan. 6, when Grossman told a news conference here that NBC may not get the subscriber commitments it needs and may look at other alternatives.
NBC News Vice President Timothy J. Russert said Friday that "we were able to get an informal commitment for more than half" the subscriber goal.
Despite the setback, he said, NBC News executives "are even more convinced now that getting into the cable industry is sound, and we're exploring other options. We'll be talking with other (cable) operators in the field."
He declined to say which companies NBC now will be approaching. But he gave an emphatic "yes" when asked if NBC News would insist on full editorial control of any joint cable-news venture that might result.