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9 Content Lessons Ted Turner Can Teach You

This guest post is by Scott Aughtmon of RecessionsSolution.com.

He wasn’t planning on becoming a media mogul. He just wanted his father’s billboard business to succeed. But the content strategy that Ted Turner stumbled upon would change his life forever. This is the story of how hardworking Ted Turner became a media mogul.

But pay close attention, because this isn’t just an amazing story. It’s a story that will reveal a content strategy you can use to elevate your own blogging efforts to a whole new level.

Ted’s early years

Ted Turner was born on November 19, 1938 to Edward and Florence Turner. They named him Edward, but everyone called him “Ted.” Ted’s father Edward started out in the mid-1930s as a car salesman in Cincinnati, OH. In the 1904s, Ed Turner saw that the “driving culture” was growing quickly, so he purchased a small billboard company and moved his family to Savannah, Georgia.

Even though Ed Turner’s billboard business was successful, his alcoholism and violent outbursts made home life really hard for Ted, because he was the brunt of most of his father’s attacks.

Ted’s early business lessons

Ted eventually was put in military school, which was a great experience for him. During his summers, Ted would come home and work for his Dad’s billboard company. This is where Ted really gained his understanding of business.

Later he went on to attend Brown University and first majored in Classics, which appalled his father. (He told Ted it made him want to vomit.) Ted later switched his major to Economics. It didn’t really matter what major he chose, anyway, because he never got a degree. He was expelled for having a girl in his dorm room.

He was confused and unsure what to do next. He turned to the one thing he knew: his Dad’s billboard business. He took on a management position there at 21 years of age. He eventually married a woman named Judy Nigh. They moved to Macon, GA and started a family.

Ted doubles his dad’s revenue

It was around 1961 and Ted was then heading up a branch of his Dad’s billboard business. He was basically running everything. He worked constantly and he was rewarded for his efforts. He was so successful he doubled revenue in two years.

He did such a great job that his father’s business was able to buy out his competitors and become the largest outdoor billboard company in the south. His Dad was doing great professionally, but he suffered from mood swings that led him to take prescriptions drugs. This led him to become addicted.

It was during this time that Ed gave Ted advice he would never forget. Advice that laid the foundation for all Ted would later become and achieve.

The advice Ted never forgot

Ed told Ted to set goals higher than he could possibly achieve in his lifetime so that there would alway be something unaccomplished that he could work on.

Ed told Ted that this was his personal mistake in life. He had set goals that were too small. It was only a short time later that Ed Turner committed suicide.

Ted was in shock as he was suddenly put in charge of his father’s company. All this happened when he was just 24. He comforted himself by throwing himself into his dad’s business. He also decided to take father’s advice: to set bigger goals than others thought were possible.

Ted’s business was growing, but his marriage wasn’t. He divorced and he later remarried again. He was riding high on the success of the billboard industry when he decided to enter a new industry. He was determined to do something where he could make a difference and make a fortune. He decided that the media was his one way to do this.

He began by purchasing radio stations around the south. After purchasing five radio stations, he came to the revelation that TV was the medium with the greatest potential.

The purchase that started it all

In January 1970, he decided to make a move into TV and purchased channel 17, which was a local UHF station. He called he TV station WTCG “Turner Communications Group.” HF stations didn’t have a very large reach back in those days, so Ted ended up losing $1 million the first year.

He knew he had to figure out a way to get more viewers. The idea he came up with would become the content strategy he would use over and over again to become the media tycoon he is today.

He purchased older, cheap programming. This programming consisted of shows like Star Trek, Bugs Bunny, I Love Lucy, and Gilligan’s Island.  As better syndicated shows were dropped by the VHF stations, Ted would pick them up for his station at a really low price. The best thing about these shows was that, even though they were inexpensive, people still liked them and wanted to watch them.

The Atlanta Braves

Ted didn’t stop there. In 1972, he purchased the rights to air 60 Atlanta Braves games for $600,000. This was a tipping point for WTCG. After Ted got the rights to the Braves games, people went out and bought UHF antenna so they could watch the games! One year later his station earned (instead of losing) $1 million.

Ted’s goals and dreams wouldn’t settle for that. In 1975, the Atlanta Braves were up for sale and Ted decided to purchase them himself for $10 million.

You need to understand something important. He didn’t just buy a baseball team. He was purchasing content for his TV station. He did everything he could to get his last place team more attention. And in typical Ted Turner style, he was able to double attendance at the games and double TV ratings at the same time.

But something else was on the horizon. Something that would take him to the next level. Something that would allow him to take the content lessons he learned from buying cheap programming and Atlanta Braves games and leverage them to see even greater results.

Ted’s venture into cable TV

Ted had heard a lot about the then-new cable and satellite industry. This allowed a station to send a TV signal across the whole country for a monthly subscription cost. Ted decided he’d take his little local station and transform it into a national network. (Again he was reaching for those bigger-than-life goals.)

In case you don’t realize it, this was a really revolutionary idea back then. Why? Because people mainly watched the three top network stations: NBC, CBS, and ABC. There weren’t a whole lot of other choices.

But Ted persisted in moving forward. He even went up against the other big networks in the media before congress. He did anything and everything to move things forward for cable television.

The result? Of course, Ted won. The previous restrictions on the cable industry were lifted.

TBS Superstation and CNN

On December 17, 1976 the first satellite transmission of WTCG went on the air. Ted decided the new station should have a new name, so he called it “TBS Superstation.” He continued showing the low-cost programming that he purchased and the Atlanta Braves games.

But Ted didn’t stop there. He realized that cable would allow people to have not just three or four TV stations to watch, but hundreds. He came up with an idea that would change news programming forever. He came up with the idea of a 24-hour news station.

How did he come up with the idea? He knew he hardly ever got a chance to watch the news because of his crazy schedule. He figured other people were the same. He decided his new station would be called CNN, short for Cable News Network. And he decided his network would go live in one year.

Again, remember the era this happened in. No such thing as “24-hour news” existed. News was usually shown in the morning, the evening and at night. That was it.

On June 1, 1980, Ted dedicated the new station. At 6pm it went live for the first time ever and has never stopped airing news since then. No one took them seriously, at first. Network news shows mocked them. But the viewership continued to grow. In 1984, TBS brought in over $200 million dollars. But Ted wasn’t stopping or settling for that.

MGM Studios

In July 1985, MGM studios went on the market. Ted purchased the studio for $1.4 billion. But things didn’t go well. TBS was swimming in debt and their newly purchased MGM division had a string of movie failures.

It looked bad for Ted and it could have turned out that way, except for one thing. The cable industry he helped to launch came to the rescue and bailed him out. They invested money in TBS. He sold part of MGM back to the billionaire he bought it from, but kept the massive film library.

Why? Content.

TNT Network

He aired these movie classics on a new cable station he called TNT or “Turner Network Television.” It debuted on October 3, 1988 with the movie Gone With The Wind. (Ted’s favorite movie.) It ended up reaching 17 million households and was the biggest cable launch in history.

He was reaching greater heights in business, but again his marriage failed. At 49, he heard about Jane Fonda getting a divorce and set his goal to date her. He asked her out, but she said she wasn’t ready to date yet. She told him to check back in six months.

He called her again, exactly six months to the day after that first contact. Guess what? She accepted. (What else? Would you expect anything less from Ted?) He later married her. At this point in life, something was about to give Ted the opportunity to make history.

The Gulf War

Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. It became apparent to everyone that the U.S. was about to attack Iraq. The network news people left Iraq, but Ted asked his reporters if they’d be willing to stay. Surprisingly, four of them said they would.

On January 17, 1991, they reported live as the U.S. attacked Iraq. It was a first in the history of television. No one had ever aired live from a war zone. And remember how the network news stations originally mocked CNN? Well, they aired CNN’s coverage of the war in Iraq on their stations. That brought CNN to a whole new level of respect and boosted it’s audience as never before.

Cartoon Network

Do you think Ted was satisfied yet? Not at all. He purchased Hanna-Barbera Productions for $320 million dollars. And why did he do that? Content.

He now had access to classic cartoons like The Flinstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and more. What did he do with them? He took that content, and the Warner Bros cartoon content he had from the MGM vault, and he created Cartoon Network. It was his fith network.

By 1995, TBS was worth $3.5 billion.

The Time Warner merger

The crazy thing is that at this point, his business had gotten so large that Time Warner approached him about a merger. Ted liked the idea, so they inked a deal. The new company was mammoth. It possessed content in television, news, music and print.

It seemed like a great idea except for one thing. Ted wasn’t running things for the first time. That eventually led to the legendary misstep of Time Warner buying AOL.

Philanthropic work

After the shock of losing control of the companies he founded, Ted refocused all of his creativity and work in a completely different direction. He went on to do great things as a philanthropist. One of his most notable acts was donating $1 billion of his $3 billion for U.N. agencies.

Some of his philanthropic work includes the Turner Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Captain Planet Foundation, and the Turner Endangered Species Fund.

Let me be clear. Everything about Ted Turner is not enviable nor worth emulating, but there is a lot we can learn from his content strategy.

9 Content lessons Ted Turner can teach you

Let’s take a look at 9 content lessons you can learn from Ted Turner.

1. Set massive goals

Don’t be wimpy about what you attempt to do. Aim for the skies. Even if you don’t reach your goals, you’ll still do more than you would have with smaller goals.

2. Think of your website or blog as a channel

If you think about it, even when Ted was selling billboard space he had a “channel.” If you wanted your business promoted to people on the road in the south, then Ted was the man you had to go to. He dominated that “channel.”

Change your website and blog paradigm to this view and see how it gets you to think and act differently.

3. You then must decide what type of niche content your “channel” will provide

With CNN, Ted decided to focus on news. With Cartoon Network it was Cartoons. TNT focused on classic films.

What type of content will your “channel” focus on? You must decide what niche your content will focus on.

4. Your first priority must be to provide content that people desire

Ted knew that any old content would not do. He always made sure to get or produce content that people craved. He did this when he originally purchased the cheap programming and Atlanta Brave rights for the WTCG station. He did the same thing with all of his other stations.

There’s no point in just providing content on your blog. It must be content that people really want.

5. Next, come up with ways to partner with other content creators to feature their content on your channel

Ted uncovered companies who weren’t leveraging their content very well (like MGM and Hanna-Barbera) and he attained rights to share their content on his channel, with his audience.

You could do this by finding great bloggers who don’t have much of an audience, and getting them to create content for you. It would be a win-win. They get exposure and you get content.  You could also do this by partnering with other successful content creators through guest postsinterviewswebinars, and more.

6. Your next priority needs to be traffic, or “viewership”

Ted did this with all of his channels and properties, but especially with his Atlanta Braves team. He did everything he could to promote his content (baseball games), get others talking about it, and so on. You need to do the same.

Brainstorm ways you can increase your traffic. Study how other top digital marketers do this and copy them.

7. As you grow your audience, begin to come up with “original programming”

Except in the case of CNN, each of Ted’s networks started out using other people’s content. But each network eventually went on to produce its own content. One example is Cartoon Network. It probably now contains more original programming than it does content created by others.

As you begin to build your audience, you can begin testing out your own content and discovering your own voice.

8. Pay attention to trends and do your best to ride them to higher levels

In an interview, Ted Turner said of his early success with WTCG, “I was just in there first. I just read the newspapers. You can make millions. All you gotta do is think. You know, just tie the information together. You know, you don’t have to be a genius.”

Check out this problogger post on a great topic generation tool you can use to study trends.

9. Leverage your momentum and growth from one channel to another channel

Ted took the momentum from TBS and used it for TNT. He moved from there to CNN and later to Cartoon Network. He would continually use the attention and knowledge he gained from one venture and parlay it to another one.

Darren Rowse is another great example of this. He used his momentum and knowledge from his photography blog and used it to start Problogger.net. You should follow these wise examples!

For more information on Ted, see CNBC Titans Ted TurnerHollywood Reporter, and Wikipedia, which were used as sources for this post.

Scott Aughtmon is a content marketer, content creation specialist, and a speaker. You can sign-up for a free preview of his upcoming “Content Boosters” course here. Read more of Scott’s insights on his blog or follow him on Twitter @rampbusinesses.

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Comments

  1. Ben Troy says:

    Inspirational Story from Ted Turner, I like the way he set the goal compared with his father . He had learnt the rich blueprint and try his best to make the innovation

  2. Dave Rowley says:

    What a great story, Scott. I really like your suggestions, the idea of seeing your blog as a ‘channel’ is a great one and has my mind spinning with new ideas and options. Really helpful post, thanks.

  3. How high should our goals be. We are running a blog what is high and how to achieve those goals. Is getting 10 million page views enough. Then how to achieve those goals. Should one buy up similar blogs in the same niche. In business its easy but in blogging how.

    • Hi George,

      I think only you can decide what a high goal for you is, because it’s different for each of us. Then I’d encourage you to move down the list I provided: high goal, what niche, quality content, etc.

  4. Carlos says:

    Great summary of Ted’s work. I was always impressed by what he achieved. It is very important to set goals in life, and this demonstrates how powerful goal setting can be for anyone that is an entrepreneur.

    • Hi Carlos. I agree about the importance of setting goals. I have a suspicion that many of us settle for so much less than is possible for us.

  5. Excellent post, the big tip here is ‘quality content creates a great user experience’. We should all focus on the content for our reader or viewer first and focus on the profit later, if we do thinks right from the off, profit cannot do anything but follow. Really interesting article.
    Regards
    SI

  6. Thanks. Glad you liked it. I agree that quality content is definitely one of the keys!

  7. Shelby Roth says:

    Wow! This is an amazing and encouraging tale about Ted Turner! Setting workable goals is something all bloggers must learn to do; I like the way Ted saw he would do something much more than what his father did, it is really inspiring. I loved it. Thank you!

  8. Great stuff! I liked the inspirational story about Ted Turner most especially the advice he never forgot! We need to copy some good examples from positive model and work upon that if we want our goals and targets in life come true. Very encouraging story indeed! I liked it, thanks for sharing!

  9. This is very encouraging. I like Ted’s story; it inspires me!

  10. Reed Nixon says:

    After reading this post about Ted’s inspirational story… I am glad I learnt those 9 lessons! Thanks for putting it up.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Wow, I learned a lot about the history of a hard working man! Good comparison there.

  12. Ayaz says:

    Hi Scott!

    Really inspirational story and certainly setting goals are very much crucial while you aimed to achieve in your life but for me the consistency and the continuous focus on your goal is the key to achieved your goals and Ted also did that in great style.

    Thanks for sharing great valuable information to learn few new things. :-)

  13. Hi Ayaz,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. And I completely agree with you. Consistency and continued focus are the keys to seeing lasting results. Take care.

  14. Hi Ayaz,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. And I completely agree with you. Consistency and continued focus are the keys to seeing lasting results. Take care.

  15. Kerrie says:

    Well stated Scott, I learned a lot from the story of Ted’s successes and how you related it to now and blogging. I have been watching Turner Classics channel for years and am seriously thinking about my blog being a channel now ! Thank you