It has been called the “biggest deal in the world this year.” Of course Donald Trump has an opinion on it. With the election not yet in hand, he has already weighed in on this matter, i.e., whether AT&T’s intent to buy Time Warner will result in a mega media provider with enough power to thwart competition in the market.
With traditional pay-TV crumbling and more viewers streaming, the media giants are scrambling to merge their way to the top. The DOJ is watching and all are speculating whether it will stop this $85 billion mega media deal.
So what did The Donald say? That, if elected, he will be push the DOJ to block the merger because AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner will put “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” With mergers and acquisitions exploding like fireworks on the media scene, there really aren’t that many hands left.
The Basic Breakdown
For a mere $30 billion Comcast recently acquired NBC and is now vying to buy DreamWorks for an additional $3.8 billion. Verizon scooped up Huffington Post and bought Yahoo for $4.8 billion. Lionsgate purchased Starz for $4.4 billion, leaving Time Warner as truly the last cable content pillar standing, with enormous assets such as CNN, TBS, TNT, Warner Bros film studio and HBO.
The media landscape really is starting to look like a game of thrones. What kingdom are they fighting to rule? 5G. All viewers. Mobile streaming all the time. That is coming and, with it, cable will likely be a thing of the past. Like rabbit ears, our children will look at a coax cable and scratch their heads. More and more people are not watching “TV” in the traditional sense, where they would sit down in the living room when their favorite show came on at 8:00 p.m. and watch, while commercials kept them entertained during the breaks.
Like rabbit ears, our children will look at a
coax cable and scratch their heads.
Now viewers go to YouTube, Hulu, Roku, Netflix, Amazon, etc. whenever they want, click the shows they want and watch them immediately. This has caused traditional ratings to drop, advertisers to pull their dollars and spend them elsewhere, and the entire ancient TV revenue structure to suffer. For traditional TV, winter is coming. Thus, the war for the mobile streaming crown has begun.
For AT&T it seems the intent is not to simply obtain the ability to stream the content. For this they would have merely purchased a license from Time Warner at a much lower cost. Rather, AT&T seeks to both own the content and have the ability to distribute it. Hulu, one of the largest video streaming providers out there, is at the forefront of this game. Who owns a ten percent stake in Hulu? Time Warner. It’s like you can hear AT&T’s gears turning.
Now you see what they see. And, you do have to commend Time Warner for selling at what appears to be the exact right time, as it turned down an offer from Time Century Fox in 2014 for $80 billion. That would have offered Time Warner’s shareholders $85 a share and now they have raked in $110 per share. Also, at the time AT&T’s offer was officially announced, Time Warner closed at around $73 billion yet sold for $85 billion. It’s no surprise a money-shift of this magnitude piqued Trump’s interest.
Will AT&T’s acquisition result in unfair competition? AT&T will not only claim the most well-recognized channel names in the industry (CNN, TBS, TNT, HBO, etc.) but also their enormous treasure trove of well-known, highly-marketed content such as Game of Thrones, Westworld, the Batman and Harry Potter film franchises, etc. In addition to this impressive repertoire of content, AT&T also holds a huge stake in media distribution. Having recently acquired DirectTV for another $48.5 billion, AT&T also boasts a very lucrative list of satellite subscribers, along with the streaming stake it will gain through Time Warner’s share of Hulu.
But wait there’s more. AT&T is also reportedly working on its own online video streaming service. This is where our antitrust scholars see a potential for failure of healthy competition in the market as AT&T will own a vast quantity of content that viewers want to see as well as the primary providers they access to view it. At the very least we expect the DOJ to place conditions on approval. But if Trump wins tonight, he will owe it to his constituents to try to follow through to stop this deal. We may soon find out whether a Trump always pay his debts.