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CBS, Turner explore possible tie-ins

CBS Inc. and Turner Broadcasting Inc. are looking at areas of possible cooperation between the once antagonistic companies. While their discussions are said to be only exploratory, one area being examined is a possible partnership between CBS News and Turner's Cable News Network to share some news-gathering facilities and footage. The two companies already have made an agreement in which a portion of CBS' 1992 and 1994 Olympics coverage will be carried on Turner's cable channel TNT.

Other general areas of cooperation in sports were discussed along with the Olympics deal at a recent meeting between executives of the two companies at Turner's Atlanta headquarters that included CBS Broadcast Group President Howard Stringer, sources said.

NBC also has had discussions with CNN about cooperating in some news-gathering efforts, but NBC News President Michael Gartner said recently that the network had called off the talks. In a memo to NBC's 200 affiliates, Gartner said that he had been approached by an unidentified CNN executive but decided that "a joint operation would not best serve our affiliates or our viewers."

Ted Turner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting, confirmed in an appearance before the International Radio and Television Society in New York that "we're having friendly conversations" with CBS.

Turner said that he had had an "exploratory meeting" with CBS to look into areas that would be "to our mutual benefit without giving up editorial integrity." He added: "We just talked about sharing facilities, overseas mostly, although nothing that would fundamentally change either one of our operations. In news, we'll go very slowly, if we do anything. We'll probably do some things because there are some savings that can be had in certain areas."

CBS Inc. and CBS News have had no official comment, although executives have acknowledged having had meetings with Turner Broadcasting officials.

Another area besides news and sports that is said to be of mutual interest to the two companies is movies. Both the CBS TV network and TNT commission and produce original TV films.

The idea of cooperation between CBS and Turner would be ironic, given the history of the two companies. Cable entrepreneur Turner was rebuffed in a bid to take over CBS in 1985, and CNN, once considered the unlikely-to-succeed upstart against the broadcast news divisions, has grown into a respected competitor.

On the other hand, the broadcast news divisions have been seeking ways to reduce their news-gathering costs at a time of tumultuous news abroad. (One network executive estimates that it cost ABC, CBS and NBC $10-million each to cover recent events in Panama, East Germany and Romania.)

Some sort of sharing of news-gathering facilities and footage would make sense for CBS, which does not have a foreign partner in news gathering. NBC owns part of the British news service Visnews, Ltd. ABC News, which is the only network news division that says that it makes a profit, owns a part of Worldwide Television News.

While sharing news-gathering facilities might make economic sense and could create a powerful news-gathering force between CBS News and CNN, there are many details that would have to be worked out. CNN and CBS News are competitors, not an American news network and a foreign partner.