Owning Time Warner would boost AT&T media ambitions, raise competition concerns.
Following up on news reported yesterday, AT&T has reached a deal to buy Time Warner Inc. for more than $80 billion, The Wall Street Journal wrote today. The boards of the companies are meeting today to approve the merger, “with a deal likely to be announced as soon as Saturday evening.”
Original story from yesterday follows:
AT&T and Time Warner Inc. have recently met “to discuss various business strategies including a possible merger,” Bloomberg reported Thursday.
Discussions are still in early stages, according to Bloomberg’s anonymous sources. “The talks, which at this stage are informal, have focused on building relations between the companies rather than establishing the terms of a specific transaction, the people said, asking not to be identified as the deliberations are private,” Bloomberg wrote. “Neither side has yet hired a financial adviser, the people said.”
Negotiations might actually be further along than Bloomberg’s sources suggested, though. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that AT&T is “in advanced talks to acquire Time Warner” and that a deal “could happen as early as this weekend.”
Representatives of AT&T and Time Warner declined to comment when contacted by Ars. Time Warner Inc. is a separate entity from Time Warner Cable, which was spun off from its parent in 2009 and purchased by Charter this year.
Time Warner’s main operating divisions are Home Box Office, Turner, and Warner Bros. Entertainment, with brands such as HBO, Cinemax, TBS, TNT, CNN, HLN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and truTv. Time Warner also operates websites including PGA.com, NBA.com, NCAA.com, DCComics.com, DCNation.com, and TMZ.com, and has a 10 percent stake in Hulu.
An AT&T purchase of Time Warner would be strategically similar to Comcast’s 2010 acquisition of NBCUniversal, giving a large stable of programming to one of the nation’s biggest Internet and TV service providers. US regulators would likely examine the competitive impacts of AT&T owning Time Warner or similar companies. AT&T would have incentive to raise the prices its rivals (such as Comcast, Charter, and Verizon) pay to distribute Time Warner programming on their cable TV systems, which could indirectly raise consumers’ TV bills.
AT&T could also harm online video services such as Netflix by raising prices or refusing to license content to online services that compete against traditional TV providers. These concerns were raised when Comcast bought NBC, but ultimately the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice allowed the merger with conditions designed to prevent competitive harm.
AT&T purchased satellite company DirecTV last year, making it the largest pay-TV company in the US ahead of Comcast. AT&T is planning to make DirecTV available over the Internet in packages that don’t require annual contracts, satellite dishes, or set-top boxes. Being an owner of programming rather than merely a distributor of other companies’ programming will make it easier for AT&T to fill the video lineup of the online version of DirecTV. A Wall Street Journal report this week said the online streaming version of DirecTV will cost about $50 a month and offer dozens of live channels.
Even if AT&T doesn’t buy Time Warner, it could buy other programming companies. “Over the next three to five years, AT&T will seek deals to become a producer of programming, shifting its business model so that it owns some of the content it distributes,” Bloomberg reported earlier this month.