The telecom giant wants to transform into a media colossus. AT&T is close to announcing it has reached an agreement to buy Time Warner in a move that would shake up the global media landscape. The deal—which looks to be for somewhere between $80 billion and $86 billion (Update, Oct. 23: In the end it was $85.4 billion)—could be announced as early as Saturday night. The transaction would give the storied telecom company that has millions of pay-TV and wireless customers control over the Warner Bros. movie studio; several premium cable channels, including HBO, CNN, TNT; and other media assets.
The agreement would still have to be approved by government regulators, and the scrutiny is likely to be intense. There are going to be lots of questions in the coming days about whether the deal would “stifle media competition or suppress innovation,” notes the Washington Post. Regulators are likely to be concerned “that other cable and internet companies would be denied access to Time Warner content,” explains Reuters. Considering regulators seem to be increasingly skeptical about this type of huge merger, approval would be far from certain. The last time a purchase of this size was made was when Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2009, and many have expressed doubts about that deal ever since. That’s why if it is approved, it likely wouldn’t come until late next year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“The wild card in all this will be the FCC,” an analyst tells Bloomberg. “It’s hard to predict what the regulators will do. They are pretty much starting with a blank page.”
Indeed, Donald Trump said on Saturday that he would block a deal between AT&T and Time Warner because it would be “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
The deal would make sense for AT&T because it comes at a time when it is trying to find new areas of growth when its main businesses are showing signs of slowing. Time Warner is also trying to find its place in a changed market as customers are increasingly dropping cable for online options.
One thing seems clear: If the purchase does go through, others are likely to quickly follow. The takeover “would probably prompt an acceleration of deal-making in the media industry, as other content companies seek partners to expand and regain some negotiating leverage with the huge service providers,” notes the New York Times.