Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure may result in one of the information superhighway’s most formidable teams. Or, it could cause a multi-megabyte pileup.
Microsoft Corp., headed by William Gates, reportedly is weighing a move to take a minority investment in Turner Broadcasting System, headed by Ted Turner, paving the way for Turner to try to outbid Westinghouse Electric Corp. for CBS Inc.
“They come from different directions, but it’s a legitimate possibility,” said Porter Bibb, co-corporate finance director of Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. who’s been helping prepare the cable broadcaster’s bid for CBS.
CBS represents Turner’s Great White Whale. He first tried a raid on the network in 1985, but was rebuffed. An alliance with Gates could just give Turner the boost he needs to grab the brass ring.
Microsoft and Turner Broadcasting are as different as their home cities and their founders. Microsoft is based in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, while Turner calls Atlanta home.
Turner is often outspoken and delights in shooting from the hip. Gates, in contrast, tends to speak in measured tones - unless he’s fuming over the Justice Department’s investigation of his company. In those moments, Gates can turn on truly Turneresque emotion.
Gates was recently named by Forbes magazine as America’s wealthiest individual, with a net worth estimated at $13 billion. Microsoft is regarded as a company on the cutting edge of information technology.
So it’s not surprising that he’d seek an alliance with the company that’s on the cutting edge of information. As Gates is for technology, Turner is hailed as a visionary for creating CNN a global, 24-hour news network. Still, he has fallen short of his goal: to parlay CNN’s success into creating a major entertainment company for Turner Broadcasting.
“Turner may finally get taken seriously,” said Bibb, who wrote a biography of Turner in 1993.
Turner would welcome Microsoft’s investment of as much as $2 billion as a vehicle for his bid for CBS, which agreed to be acquired by Westinghouse for $5.4 billion on Aug. 1.
So far, Turner’s attempt to bid for CBS has been prevented by Time Warner Inc., which owns 20 percent of Turner Broadcasting and has three seats on Turner’s board. Time Warner’s stake in Turner is worth about $1.27 billion.
Gates has been talking with Turner for months about having the broadcast company provide news and entertainment for Microsoft Network, the software company’s on-line service scheduled to debut Aug. 24 in Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows95, analysts said.
An investment would allow Microsoft, the world’s biggest personal computer software company, to present material from Turner cable programming outlets such as the Cable News Network and the Cartoon Network for the Microsoft Network.
“Having Turner content like CNN on the Microsoft Network would be a big coup for Gates,” said Richard Grand-Jean, president of Global Film Equity Corp. “It would also give him indirect access to CBS’s programming,” if a Turner offer for the broadcast network is successful.
The partnership would enjoy plenty of benefits.
Gates would want Turner’s programming producers to create new forms of entertainment to be delivered via his on-line service to customers’ PCs.
Microsoft has been talking about partnerships with many entertainment concerns - including General Electric Co.’s NBC television network and Hollywood production company Dreamworks SKG - since last year.