Advanced Television

Gerald Levin RIP

March 14, 2024

By Chris Forrester

Gerald Levin, one-time head of Warner Communications and an undoubted visionary as far as HBO was concerned, has died at 84 following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

His career was blighted by the forced marriage between Time Warner, which included all of the Turner Broadcasting assets, with AOL. The merger was a catastrophe for all concerned, and ended up with a massive write-down of $100 million in the merged companies value.

Levin joined HBO in its earliest days in 1972 as a programming executive. Within a year he was CEO and persuaded Time Inc to take the channel and offer it to cable operators using satellites to deliver its content. His next step was to bring Warner Bros, Warner Music and other key assets in a $14 billion acquisition and create Time Warner.

In 1996 Time Warner bought the Turner Broadcasting assets including CNN, Cartoon Network, TNT, TCM and which included the movie assets that Ted Turner had acquired for his movie channel.

The 2000 merger with AOL, and shockingly with 55 per cent of the new company allocated to AOL and just v45 per cent to Time Warner’s shareholders and a reversal of the annual revenues of each business (Time Warner at the time had revenues of $27 billion while AOL’s were nearer $5 billion). But AOL’s market capitalisation was greater.

Levin stepped down as CEO in May 2002 (and was replaced by Richard Parsons). The AOL letters were promptly removed from the company’s name.

Over the next few years Time Warner lost 92 per cent of its share value. In 2010 he appeared on business news channel CNBC and apologised for what he described as “the worst deal of the century”.

Levin is survived by his four children, Anna, Laura, Leon and Michael, and seven grandchildren.

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