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annals of communications
The New Yorker - August 3, 1993

the race for a global network

G.E.'s Jack Welch was trying to unload NBC. But now NBC has a strategy, while CBS reels from Howard Stringer's departure.

by ken auletta

In the corporate jungle, Jack Welch has emerged as a lion. Welch, the chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric, is a former chemical engineer who has made G.E. into a sixty-billion-dollar global behemoth, which since 1986 has included NBC. Under Welch, G.E. has become America's No. 1 corporate earner (six billion dollars in 1994), and its earnings last year grew by twenty-two per cent. Welch hasalways wanted to win, to dominate, and his competi-tive nature comes forth even in interviews. He springs at reporters, demanding that they ask their toughest questions. One moment, he radiates charm; the next, he flashes his blue eyes and attacks with questions of his own.

Since G.E. acquired NBC, Welch has been alternately pleased with its successes and so disappointed that he has tried to sell it. For much of the past year, however, he has seemed relatively at ease. He maintains that he is satisfied with the network's growth strategy, with relaxed government rules that allow the networks to earn more money, and with NBC's expansion under the presidency of his friend and longtime G.E. colleague Robert Wright. "The changing financial syndication rules, the success in globalization, the strength of the NBC management team--all these factors convinced us that NBC was a great growth opportunity, equal to many others in the company," he says. Welch's thoughts are no longer dominated by embarrassing memories of such things as the rigged truck crash on the NBC news-magazine show "Dateline," the loss of David Letterman to CBS, NBC's falling into third place in the prime-time ratings, and the effort to keep Rupert Murdoch's Fox network from signing up NBC-affiliated stations. Today, Welch, who is fifty-nine years old, spends a lot of time extolling the accomplishments of NBC.

"Jack is having fun," says Andrew Lack, the president of NBC News. "He calls me all the time. He loves the new studio"--a street-level studio with an abundance of spectators, in Rockefeller Center, that was opened in June of 1994. "He loves the events that go on in front of the studio. The high profile of NBC was a headache for him for a while. It's not a headache now."

Any headaches that Welch had been feeling may have been eased somewhat by the media developments of the past two weeks. At the end of February, he saw a network competitor, CBS, sink deeper into a morass when it lost its Broadcast Group president, Howard Stringer, who is leaving to head a new media-programming service being formed by three regional telephone companies under the tutelage of Michael Ovitz, the chairman of the Creative Artists Agency. And, days earlier, he saw NBC gain at least a temporary truce with its worldwide rival, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, when it suspended a legal challenge to Murdoch in return for access to Murdoch's satellite-delivered television in Asia--an agreement that furthered Welch's aim of making NBC a worldwide brand name. Many NBC executives say that Welch is eager to eclipse Murdoch, who has already created the first global entertainment-and-news network. Now that G.E. has owned NBC for eight years, Welch believes that Bob Wright and his team can make NBC the world's foremost network. He wants NBC to become as important in its field as G.E. is in most of its eleven other businesses, which include light bulbs, medical systems, and jet engines. Since Welch became G.E.'s chairman and C.E.O., in 1981, he has followed one rule assiduously: If a division can't be No. 1 or No. 2 in its business worldwide, sell it. Welch feels that in Bob Wright he has a kindred spirit.

NBC already has a baby global network. Over breakfast in his spacious office, on the fifty-second floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Wright, a personable man of fifty-one, noted that NBC had recently bought or joined forces with a number of international distribution systems: NBC in Asia, which made the pact with Murdoch to carry two NBC channels on his satellite; NBC Super Channel in Europe and the Middle East; Canal de Noticias NBC and TV Azteca in Central and South America. Wright also boasts that these international investments, combined with NBC's ownership of or investment in twenty-one domestic cable services, have increased the asset value of NBC "dramatically--to the tune of probably two billion dollars." He knows that he is following a trail already blazed by Murdoch at Twentieth Century Fox: manufacturing a brand-name product and multiplying its value by distributing and promoting its programs on a worldwide television network. Murdoch and his News Corporation did this by linking the Fox studio, network, and library with his Sky TV in Europe and his Star TV satellite system in Asia. Why should G.E., a company at least six times the size of Murdoch's News Corporation, cede dominance in the worldwide communications revolution to Murdoch? That's the question Wright has posed, and it is one that has aroused the competitive spirit in Jack Welch.

Of the three traditional networks, Capital Cities/ABC is the leader. It is the most profitable, has the best stations and cable holdings, has created the most software, and has made the most overseas production alliances. But ABC has chosen not to own a worldwide distribution system. CBS, under Laurence Tisch, has shed almost all its former holdings and has narrowed its focus to a single domestic broadcast business, which may soon be sold. Of the three, only NBC is trying to build its own worldwide distribution network. This was the backdrop to the negotiations between NBC and Ted Turner, which began in 1993 and publicly collapsed in January, because of disagreement over who would control the merged entertainment giant. Welch and Wright were trying to leap over Murdoch by joining NBC with Turner's CNN and his satellite-delivered entertainment channel (TNT), his produc-tion capabilities (Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema), plus the thirty-four hundred titles in his film library, and his worldwide cartoon network. "If NBC had joined with Ted, it would have caught Rupert," says John Malone, who is the chief executive officer of Tele-Communications, Inc., the nation's largest cable company, which owns nearly a quarter of Turner Broadcasting and is a partner of Murdoch's in several ventures. "They would have married a domestic broadcast network to worldwide cable networks. It's all about trying to catch Rupert. He's the guy out in the lead. The broad strategy is to take the programming you create and to exploit it as a worldwide business by using facilities that you own. To become vertically integrated worldwide--that's the game."

So Welch has now said that NBC is not for sale, and thus leaves CBS as the lone network seeking a buyer. "I don't believe that Jack has any interest in selling NBC," says a prospective buyer who has talked with Welch. This suitor, like others, would love to own a network, because in the last few years the perception has grown that the networks are increasingly valuable--for the moment, at least. Although network viewing is expected to drop, many people believe that, with the proliferation of channel choices and other computer and video-on-demand options, familiar brand names will still stand out. Potential buyers or investors are interested not in a traditional network per se but in how they can use it--as an advertising tool, as a promotional platform for introducing other shows, as a showcase for building product names, like NBC's "Seinfeld," and as a familiar brand name itself--like NBC--for a line of products that can be merchandised and sold globally. "The network business is a very tough business, and that has not changed," Wright says. "In our opinion, you've got to be in more than the network business."

THROUGHOUT the latter half of the nineteen-eighties, when NBC was the ratings leader and, together with the stations it owns, generated annual profits of as much as five hundred million pre-tax dollars, Welch was pleased. But in the early nineties, as profits shrank, he soured on NBC. The network suffered its first money-losing year under G.E. in 1991. In late 1992, Welch came close to selling a majority interest in NBC to Paramount. And, without Wright's knowledge, he was still shopping the network in the winter of 1993, when NBC's "Dateline" was caught rigging the test crash of a General Motors truck, and Michael Gartner, the president of NBC News, instead of apologizing, responded like a quibbling defense counsel. After an internal investigation, Gartner resigned, and was soon replaced by Andrew Lack, a CBS producer. In April of 1993, when Lack's appointment was announced, Welch told NBC's employees, "NBC is not for sale. G.E. wants to be part of NBC." Then, with an uncharacteristic defensiveness, he said, "I guess some might feel that's bad news, but I hope not."

Still, Welch apparently didn't stop peddling the network. Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports, remembers attending a New York Knicks playoff game in May of 1993 and wondering why Martin Davis, the C.E.O. of Paramount, which then owned the Knicks, wasn't at the game. Ebersol says that he later learned that Davis and Welch were off negotiating that night. Welch also talked to Disney, Time Warner, I.T.T., and, of course, Ted Turner, among others, about a sale or an alliance. A year ago, he asked the investment-banking firm Allen & Company to put a value on NBC and, in the words of a banker there, "to find a buyer." As late as last summer, according to four men who were privy to the discussions, Welch was prepared to sell a majority interest in NBC for the right price. He came particularly close to selling it to the Walt Disney Company. In those discussions, a Disney executive says, Welch said that the total value of NBC was more than six billion dollars.

What turned Welch from seller to buyer? At least five factors were involved in his change of heart, which came about during the summer of 1994. First, he was pleased with Bob Wright's team at NBC. The Wright who had always been a favorite of Welch's--witty, irreverent, at ease with himself--was not the uptight Wright who was first seen by many at NBC. As time passed, Wright relaxed. When CNBC's president, Roger Ailes, who had been a campaign media adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, appeared on Don Imus's radio show and made cracks about Hillary Clinton, "the White House went batshit and tried to get me fired," Ailes recalls. "But Bob had already called me and said the show was funny." Ailes says, with a wink, that after the White House phoned, Wright called "to reprimand me." Not so long ago, Wright might have panicked and overreacted to the White House's fury. Partly because of incidents like this, Wright now commands the loyalty of his lieutenants. He recruited many of them by following a pattern: hire executives who have been producers. Besides hiring Lack, in 1989 he recruited Ebersol, a former producer of sports at ABC and of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," to run NBC Sports, and in 1993 he hired Don Ohlmeyer, a former network sports producer who ran his own production company in Hollywood, to run the entertainment division, and Ailes, who once produced "The Mike Douglas Show," to run CNBC and the America's Talking channel. In addition, Wright hired Neil Braun from Viacom in May of 1994, and Braun, who had been president of Viacom Entertainment, restructured NBC's business relationship with its more than two hundred affiliated stations.

By the fall of 1994, NBC Entertainment, which had such popular shows as "Seinfeld," "ER," and "Frasier," was challenging ABC for the ratings lead; it was broadcasting three profitable magazine hours, and the News Division was more profitable than it had ever been, earning fifty million dollars in 1994, according to a well-informed NBC official. In addition, for the first time ever one network had four major strongholds of sports coverage: National Football Conference games, the National Basketball Association games, major-league baseball (in theory, at least), and the 1996 Summer Olympics. CNBC was expected to earn thirty million dollars in 1994, and Roger Ailes believed that its revenues, combined with those of America's Talking, could rise an average of some forty per cent in each of the next five years. Neil Braun had negotiated pacts of between seven and ten years with NBC stations that reached at least three-quarters of the country, thereby securing NBC's domestic distribution system. And Thomas Rogers, who had joined the network in 1987, soon after Wright did, had worked out deals to assure overseas distribution of NBC's programming.

The improved economics of all the networks was a second factor that impressed Welch. Although Wright has consistently said that the network business is a mature, low-growth business, and has not altered this view over eight years, the networks' advertising sales rose about eight to ten per cent in 1994. The growth in advertising revenue reflected a sense within the advertising community that advertisers should again focus on mass-market advertising. The conviction grew that only the networks could potentially reach a hundred per cent of all Americans watching TV and thereby plant the name of a new product in the minds of a national audience. The champions of five hundred channel choices, or of a digitalized network that would allow viewers to interact with their TVs or computers and to watch whatever they wanted, assumed that most viewers had the time and the energy to program their leisure television time. But what if viewers just wanted to be passively entertained, just wanted to collapse in front of their TV sets and let an established brand name--NBC, say--do the scheduling? The movie business, like the networks, hasn't been a vibrant growth business over the past decade. In recent years, Hollywood made more money from video sales than it did from domestic theatres, just as cable's profits have come to eclipse those of the networks. But a network, Neil Braun says, "is a medium where value is created, just as movie theatres create value." He explains, "The more successful a movie is in a theatre, the more successful it will be in a video store. You can't make an 'ER' in any other business. You can't get enough people to sample your product." Robert Iger, the president and chief operating officer of Cap Cities/ABC, says, "What's been wrong when analysts say that a network is not a growth business is that they are analyzing the traditional direction of a network. Networks should be analyzed as a spawning ground for new businesses or product."

The economics of the networks also got a boost from the federal government in the early nineties. Having decided that the networks were no longer monopolies, the government moved to allow them to serve as producers of more of their programs, and to sell these as reruns to local stations and abroad, thus opening a new revenue source. Of course, the new flexibility could invite some old monopolistic abuses. An investment banker who is bullish on networks predicts, perhaps hyperbolically, "These guys are going to lock out the studios. That's what they'd like to do. They're going to air their own product as much as they can."

A third factor in Welch's change of heart was Rupert Murdoch. The C.E.O.s of the three older networks had struggled for years to reduce the license fees they paid for sporting events and the cash compensation they paid to their stations for network affiliation. But Murdoch, beginning in late 1993, discarded the rule book. To get the National Football League's National Conference games for Fox, he was willing to lose money, and made an extravagant bid. The other networks complained that he would make sports prices far more costly and would lose a bundle in the process, and that is what happened. Only later did they realize that Murdoch kept his books a different way--that he had a broader strategy in mind. He was building assets. He was elevating the Fox brand name and the Fox platform. And he was making it more attractive for strong stations to switch and affiliate with Fox. Six months later, when he struck a deal with Ronald Perelman's New World and its twelve stations, Murdoch overnight snatched eight affiliates from CBS and one from NBC, triggering a mad scramble among all four networks to steal one another's stations. To date, NBC has lost four affiliates.

Welch and Wright were enraged. They had envisioned lower costs, and instead sports and station compensation were escalating. The stage was set for battle. Murdoch's moves, Lack and others say, helped to provoke Wright and Welch. So when NBC went to Welch last fall with a proposal to petition the Federal Communications Commission to rule that the Australian-based News Corporation had violated a rule that no more than one-fourth of a broadcast station may be owned by a foreign corporation, and warned Welch that in response Murdoch might attack G.E., Welch gave the proposal his approval. NBC was claiming the moral high ground. At an NBC management retreat in January, Wright raised the prospect of battling Murdoch in Asia. "We'll be going head-to-head with a number of Rupert Murdoch's programs," he declared.

A fourth factor in Welch's thinking was that Wright had devised a workable growth strategy, which he had outlined during a planning session at G.E.'s Fairfield, Connecticut, headquarters in July of 1994. Neil Braun says, "One message that Jack has consistently given me since I came here is this: 'If you can demonstrate this is a growth business, great. If we decide to sell, it will be because NBC failed to show that it was a growth business.' " At the retreat, Wright and his team spoke of the network as just one of many businesses that NBC would be in. Domestically, the network would reap greater profits by owning shows and selling the reruns to local stations, by expanding its cable holdings, and by continuing to invest in interactive media. The key, Wright said, was to think of NBC as being in "the video business," and not just the broadcast business. The network platform would "create value" for each of NBC's holdings. And perhaps the greatest value would come from what Wright called the "metered business," or services like pay-per-view and premium channels. Today, this is a six-billion-dollar business, consisting most prominently of movies and special events that cable viewers pay to watch on a onetime basis. If NBC could meter everything, so that viewers paid for what they watched on cable television, then you'd have hit a home run, Wright said.

But the true home run, Wright and his team told Welch, would come overseas. Already, NBC Super Channel in Europe and the Middle East could potentially reach sixty million viewers. NBC owned smaller broadcast and cable and satellite distribution systems in Asia, Central America, and South America, all featuring NBC programming. Ebersol said that if NBC and Turner were linked they could compete with ABC and its ESPN. Lack said that in the new year NBC News would reach three times as many viewers overseas as CNN, and, with its various foreign partners, had as a goal becoming the preeminent world-news network. Ailes said that CNBC would be the world's first live global business-news network.

Pride was no doubt the fifth factor that entered into Welch's calculus. He had always had a golden touch at G.E., but when NBC began to slip, several years after he and Wright arrived, critics spoke of a cultural gap. They said that Welch understood "hard" businesses, with tangible assets, like machines and light bulbs, but not "soft" businesses, like entertainment and news, where motivation and creativity mattered more. This charge surfaced again after G.E. acquired the Wall Street firm Kidder, Peabody & Company, in 1986, and then allowed a dizzying merry-go-round of managers to come and go. Soon G.E. was embarrassed both by its mounting losses and by the charges of employee fraud and lax management that were headlined on the front pages of newspapers. Jack Welch may have too much pride to surrender NBC now, particularly after he admitted defeat by selling Kidder late last year. NBC provides a platform not only for its products but also for its executives. Everyone has an opinion about what they do. Presidents and senators court them for more than campaign contributions. NBC lifts them off the business pages. "You don't get any publicity for making light bulbs," a retired network official observes.

WELCH insists that he and Wright have always been searching for an alliance to help build the business, even during the talks with Paramount's Martin Davis. "We were never interested in an outright sale of NBC," Welch says. "For example, all our discussions with Marty Davis involved our remaining as an equity player. Subsequent to our discussions with Davis, there have been several developments that convinced us we wanted to have the controlling interest in any strategic alliance." Welch's timetable is disputed by more than a few NBC insiders. Even in the summer of 1994, they say, Welch was prepared to sell majority ownership of NBC to Disney. Insiders date Welch's turnaround and search for a junior strategic partner to a later point that summer, when discussions were held with Time Warner about a television alliance in which G.E. would retain majority ownership of NBC. Several advisers say that this was the first time Welch had firmly stated the view that G.E. should retain majority control of NBC. When the Time Warner negotiations broke off, the yearlong conversations with Ted Turner heated up, only to collapse, in September, when Turner couldn't get a major shareholder--Time Warner, which owns about twenty per cent of his company--to go along.

Despite the impediment, discussions with Turner continued. Wright and Turner got excited about the possible synergies, agreeing, for example, that they might save two hundred million dollars by combining CNN and NBC News--though the figure, Andrew Lack says, is "at most a hundred million" and probably closer to seventy million.

But Turner and Wright were deadlocked over who would control the merged company. So on January 13th of this year, Welch and Wright got on a G.E. jet and flew to Atlanta, and the three men met alone in a suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Several of Welch's advisers were stumped by the purpose of the meeting. If each side had insisted that it would not cede control, why make the visit? "I'm puzzled why Welch keeps going through these exercises with NBC," an investment banker who knows him well says. "It doesn't take three, four months to figure out. Welch goes through the exercise and decides he wants control. It demoralizes NBC." The reason for the summit meeting, Wright says, was that "Ted didn't believe we wouldn't sell." Welch's mission was to persuade him to change one group of owners, Time Warner and Tele-Communications, Inc., for another, G.E.

A potential Turner-NBC merger is still a distant possibility, strategists on both sides say. Relations remain amicable. Meanwhile, Wright says, NBC will continue to search for strategic partners but will build its own global network with or without a major partner. "Ours is a world-branding-franchise effort," says Thomas Rogers, who is president of NBC's cable and business development, borrowing the lingo of a Procter & Gamble product manager. "We are creating branded franchises in cable and over the air and overseas and in computers." Welch has become a believ-er. At an annual G.E. management retreat in Boca Raton in January, Welch stood before five hundred of his managers, including those from NBC, and declared, "NBC is not for sale. We like NBC. The board of directors likes NBC. It is one of our great growth opportunities. . . . We are looking to find strategic relationships that can expand our opportunity."

Turner has now switched his attention to Laurence Tisch and CBS, people close to both Turner and Tisch say. Turner and John Malone's T.C.I. are feverishly working to buy out Time Warner's minority stake in his company, thus clearing the way for him to buy a network. Turner has confided to an associate that in the next week or so he hopes to wrap up a deal with Tisch to acquire CBS. The pressures on Tisch to do a deal mount. He is seventy-two. While ABC and NBC have built or acquired non-network assets, Tisch has been selling off his assets since 1985. He has refused to expand. He keeps badgering his executives for deeper budget cuts. Recently, two exasperated CBS executives say, he proposed to substitute paid advertising for heretofore sacrosanct public-service announcements. Moreover, this year CBS may slip from first place to third in the nightly ratings, and has now lost Howard Stringer, its president, who kept the vehicle moving even as Tisch stripped it of the hubcaps and the seat covers. Stringer and Michael Ovitz together negotiated the deal to bring Letterman to CBS--a deal that earned more money for CBS last year than the network's entire prime-time entertainment schedule. "I'm leaving somewhat serendipitously, because in the middle of the Christmas period Michael Ovitz brought an idea to me that made me think I could duplicate the great adventure I had when I first came to America and entered broadcasting," the Welsh-born Stringer said. "It was an opportunity for a second challenging career. I couldn't imagine that another opportunity like this would come along."

With Tisch out trying to sell CBS, other executives are dispirited, aware that when Tisch goes they may be out of a job. To comfort nervous executives, Tisch announced last week that he would replace Stringer with his respected deputy, Peter Lund, the executive vice-president. Like Stringer, who tired of the onslaught, Lund may be under pressure from the relentless Tisch to cut, cut, cut. And any cuts will undoubtedly produce more black-eye headlines. As the asset diminishes and the stock price declines, Tisch is under more pressure to sell. The race at CBS may be whether Tisch can get his price--about eighty dollars a share--before the CBS stock drops.

Cap Cities/ABC flirted with a saleto Disney a few years ago. "Eisner could have bought us, but he balked at the price," an important Cap Cities/ABC executive says. "Today, we're more likely to be a buyer than a seller. We would be too expensive to buy." With a market capitalization of thirteen billion dollars, analysts usually say, the company would bring as much as eighteen billion dollars if it were sold. Cap Cities/ABC, like both Murdoch and NBC, has a global programming strategy, but ABC has concentrated more on software than on distribution and is more willing to serve as a minority partner with foreign media companies.

ARE the networks really a good busi- ness, as Jack Welch says he now believes? And is Welch really a buyer and not a seller? While the strengths of a network have been mentioned, the potential disadvantages are many. It is a business that relies on a single source of revenue--advertising. And, while network viewing has stopped declining, and has been on a plateau of sixty per cent of audience share for the past couple of years, few network executives honestly believe that this pause is anything more than temporary. As viewers get more choices, the networks' audience share will inevitably drop. How far it will drop no one can know.

It is true that government has opened a second lucrative revenue source for the networks, by allowing them to produce more of their own shows and to sell the shows in the syndication marketplace. However, there are perils here as well. "The commonly accepted view that 'content is king' applies only if distribution is available," Tom Wolzien and John Penney, of Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, the Wall Street firm, have written. "The distribution potential for off-network reruns appears to be drying up." With three new networks--Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros.--joining NBC, ABC, and CBS, and with more independent stations now affiliated with one or another of these six networks, there has been a "contraction in the number of stations that can air reruns in the most profitable 7-11 P.M. time slot." Wolzien and Penney estimate that in four years, only fourteen of the total of eleven hundred and fifty-four TV stations will not have a network affiliation. Networks will no doubt continue to increase their revenues through sales to cable outlets, which pay little, and to new overseas outlets, but half-hour comedies, which are the financial backbone of the lucrative rerun business, tend not to travel well. A third peril is the blurring of the line between a network and a studio. What if Ted Turner got CBS and took a show that he owned--"Seinfeld," say--away from NBC? What if Viacom pulled "Melrose Place" from Fox and put it on the Paramount network? Still another danger is related to government deregulation. What if the company that owns the wire into the house is free to scramble channels--to move, say, Channel 4 to Channel 64? Will viewer habits be broken if viewers are required to flip around the dial to find a network? And what if governments abroad impose trade sanctions to keep out American cultural imperialists?

The answers to these questions are as yet unknowable. So is the answer to the question of whether Jack Welch would really sell NBC. What if he doesn't find a partner to help make NBC grow quickly? What if NBC slips again, as it did four years ago, when Welch first decided to sell? Not to be forgotten, of course, is the fact that in last October's Forbes Welch said that G.E. would not sell Kidder Peabody, and a few weeks later the brokerage firm was sold to Paine Webber. Jack Welch is not Warren Buffet, who prides himself on making what he calls "permanent" investments in companies like Cap Cities/ABC and the Washington Post Company.

Welch and Bob Wright are extraordinarily nimble. For example, despite their belligerent posture toward Murdoch, on February 17th the two worldwide rivals reached a truce that sounded very much like an old-fashioned political deal. In exchange for NBC's agreeing to suspend its campaign to deny Murdoch his station licenses, Murdoch agreed to distribute the programming of two NBC cable channels on his Star satellite system in Asia. The impetus for the truce, Wright says, was threefold. First, NBC had succeeded in putting its claims before Congress and the F.C.C., he says, and it was clear that a ruling on foreign ownership would be made within the year. "It was also apparent that we had done significant damage to Fox in Washington," he adds. Second, with the failed launch in January of NBC's alternate satellite distributor in Asia--Apstar-2--NBC now needed Murdoch's Star satellite to deliver the NBC brand name. And, finally, because it became so personal between the companies, Wright says, "there was no way we were going to have a business relationship with them with this thing pending."

Of course, this realpolitik did not coincide with NBC's high moral tone earlier in the battle. What would Wright say to someone who thought NBC was as cynical as it once accused Murdoch of being? "This has always been about business," Wright responds. NBC is not in the business of prosecuting the public trust, or advancing a philosophical policy it believes in, he implies. It is in business to make money.

Like Wright, Welch is not sentimental, and that is one reason people don't entirely believe that he won't sell. Perhaps the best way for Welch to raise the price of NBC, a Disney executive says, is to insist that it's not for sale. "Maybe he's being a shrewd negotiator," this executive says. And Roger Ailes observes that, if the offer were big enough, Welch's fiduciary responsibility to shareholders would require a sale. "It's like marriage vows," Ailes says. "You mean them. You do your damnedest to uphold them, but . . ." (c)


© 1996-2002, Ken Auletta - all rights reserved
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