Content is King: Ted Turner’s acquisition of MGM Studios — Mistakes Were Made
Ted Turner was a name in business circles in the 1980s. He started CNN and owned the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks. Turner tried to acquire CBS, but ultimately failed in the endeavor. He then looked for a bigger acquisition.
In March 1986, Turner’s company Turner Broadcasting agreed to buy the prestigious but fledgling Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio (MGM) for $1.5 billion. The deal sent shock waves throughout the entertainment industry. By any measure, Turner over paid for MGM and the deal put his company in significant debt. Turner was under so much debt that he sold off most of MGM’s asset back to Kirk Kerkorian, the same person he initially bought them from for $480 million. This transaction took place just three months after the first one!
Looking at the transactions from a numbers vantage point, Turner lost on all accounts. He ended up getting less than half back from what he previously paid for the company just three months prior. Turner did not give all of MGM’s assets back though, he kept MGM movie catalog which spawned from 1924 to 1986. The catalog included classic movies like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Singin in the Rain. Turner was panned for the moves. Everyone thought he lost his mind. Critics would eventually eat their words about Turner.
In 1986, Turner Entertainment was established to oversee the film and television properties now owned by Turner thanks to the MGM deal. Turner had the films syndicated on his nationwide television stations. In 1988, the Turner Network Television (TNT) was established with its initial showing of Gone with the Wind. Turner would later create the Turner Classic Movies channel (TCM) in 1994. The channel aired all MGM’s pre 1986 movies and those of Warner Brothers made before 1950.
The MGM catalog also included early Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Popeye cartoons. Turner turned that content into the Cartoon Network. Three different channels all started with one studio catalog. Analysts estimated the MGM catalog to be worth $100 million a year back in 1986. From 1986 to Time Warner’s merger with AOL in 2001, Turner earned around $1.5 billion from the MGM catalog. If you add that to the $450 million he got in the resale…