AT&T bid for Time Warner is a bet on synergy
AT&T’s $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner represents a new bet on synergy between companies that distribute information and entertainment to consumers and those that produce it.
The acquisition would combine a telecom giant that owns a leading cellphone business, DirecTV, and an internet service with the company behind HBO, CNN, and some of the world’s most popular entertainment, including the Game of Thrones televised series, the Harry Potter franchise and professional basketball.
It’s the latest big media acquisition by a major cable or phone company — such as Comcast’s 2011 purchase of NBC Universal— and aimed at shoring up businesses upended by the internet.
Regulators will have to sign off on the deal, not a certain thing. The prospect of another media giant on the horizon has already drawn fire on the campaign trail. Speaking in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed to kill it if elected because it concentrates too much “power in the hands of too few”.
Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said the deal “raises some immediate flags about consolidation in the media market” and said he would press for more information on how the deal will affect consumers.
Network-owning companies like AT&T are investing in media to find new revenue sources and ensure they don’t get relegated to being just “dumb pipes”. In addition to the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, Verizon bought AOL last year and has now proposed a deal for Yahoo to build a digital ad business.
After its attempt to buy wireless competitor T-Mobile was scrapped in 2011 following opposition from regulators, AT&T doubled down on television by purchasing satellite TV company DirecTV for $48.5 billion. AT&T is expected to offer a streaming TV package, DirecTV Now, by the end of the year, aimed at people who have dropped their cable subscriptions or never had one.
The venerable phone company has to contend with slowing growth in wireless services, given that most Americans already have smartphones. It faces new competitors for that business from cable companies. Comcast plans to launch a cellphone service next year.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who will run the combined company, said the deal will allow AT&T to offer unique services, particularly on mobile, though he didn’t provide details. Jeff Bewkes, the Time Warner CEO who will stay during a transition period, added that more money will help finance additional programming and films.