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Turner wants to buy leading US network: 'Savings potential of up to dollars 100m a year on news gathering'

TED Turner, the media tycoon who owns the CNN cable television news network, yesterday underlined his determination to move into broadcast television through a merger with a large US network.

Speaking in St Petersburg, where he is attending the Goodwill Games, Mr Turner said he agreed with the market view that all the big US broadcast networks would probably change hands within the next two or three years.

'I think that basically all three of them are now available for the right deal.' He added that, though he had no immediate plans, his Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System was an interested buyer.

Mr Turner's name has long been associated with takeover rumours, most recently as a potential counter-bidder for CBS during its short-lived engagement to QVC, the home shopping company. That deal fell through and CBS chairman Laurence Tisch has since said the company is no longer for sale - a position that has won little credibility on Wall Street.

Mr Turner's remarks yesterday fuelled speculation over the future of CBS. Shares in the company rose dollars 4 to trade at dollars 317 by midday.

Mr Turner pointed to the big cost savings on news gathering operations that would be achieved in any link-up between CNN and a network broadcaster, estimating that dollars 50m to dollars 100m a year could be saved by a merger.

Because of the potential savings on news gathering Mr Turner is seen as a natural partner for CBS, though the Walt Disney Company is also seen as a possible suitor.

Of the other two networks, speculation most often surrounds NBC, which is owned by General Electric.

The ABC network is owned by Capital Cities/ABC, which also has substantial radio and publishing interests including Institutional Investor magazine. ABC has its own cable network subsidiary, the ESPN sports channel.

CBS, NBC and ABC form the established triumvirate of broadcast television in the US, though they are under attack from Fox, the fourth network set up by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Mr Murdoch has been making aggressive moves over the past year, including outbidding CBS for the rights to show NFC Football games, and signing up a group of stations that defected from CBS.