AT&T Says ‘See You in Court’ as All Eyes on Trump, CNN: Gadfly

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The Justice Department is taking a more durable line than anticipated on AT&T Inc.’s deliberate merger with Time Warner Inc., reportedly asking the businesses to both promote Turner Broadcasting — house to President Donald Trump’s favourite nemesis, CNN — or divest DirecTV with the intention to full the $109 billion transaction.

Whether or not politics are enjoying a component in any of this, both possibility is not a lot of a alternative for AT&T, and so the wi-fi big ought to take its possibilities in court docket. 

Both divisions look like essential to AT&T’s technique to diversify its income with video providers and promoting for the content material seen on them. Turner, at the moment owned by Time Warner, operates tv networks akin to TBS and TNT along with CNN. AT&T acquired DirecTV two years in the past for $67 billion so as to add a satellite-TV enterprise, which has since expanded to incorporate DirecTV Now, its personal over-the-top streaming app. And whereas DirecTV is struggling and possibly value considerably lower than what AT&T paid for it, video distribution would nonetheless look like a vital piece of the puzzle. 

This newest improvement might provide a dose of actuality for some keen bankers, nevertheless it’s optimistic for customers that the DOJ is maybe as considerate because it ever was. If it is asking for all of Turner and never simply CNN to be cut up off, it additionally would throw some chilly water on the hypothesis that regulators might on this case act in retaliation on the route of Trump, who’s resentful of and overtly disparages CNN’s protection of his administration. For his half, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson mentioned in an announcement Wednesday the corporate has no intention of promoting the community.

Days Since AT&T Agreed to Buy Time Warner

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As for the DOJ, its reluctance to approve this merger with out concessions is warranted. AT&T is kicking off what could also be years of consolidation of energy over media and wi-fi belongings, or on the very least a reshuffling of them amongst very highly effective folks. Just this week got here phrase that Walt Disney Co. explored a deal to purchase nearly all of 21st Century Fox Inc. because it seeks scale and extra priceless content material to counter the cord-cutting pattern. There’s additionally been a notion on Wall Street that the Republican administration — and President Trump himself — are so “pro-business” that the thought of, say, a merger of Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc. being kicked round is not unthinkable. 

All that mentioned, the DOJ would not stand an important shot in court docket, and Bloomberg News studies that AT&T “is ramping up preparations to fight” the DOJ in court docket if the company does sue to dam the deal. Regulators would want to make the case that AT&T shopping for Time Warner is dangerous to competitors, an argument with holes on condition that the 2 firms aren’t rivals, so no competitors is technically being faraway from the market. The long-term ramifications, if any, are far more nebulous and due to this fact powerful to show. It cannot be good for customers, proper? The root motivation of nearly all mergers is extra pricing energy, one thing wi-fi carriers, pay-TV suppliers and even many TV networks are shedding. But is it dangerous for customers? Prove it.

There’s additionally a number of competitors being created on the over-the-top streaming aspect, which is consuming into the businesses’ margins as a result of the providers are that less expensive than conventional cable packages. 

Time Warner buyers — or extra probably merger arbitrageurs betting on the transaction — are getting nervous, although. The inventory dropped about 6 % Wednesday and it is down 14 % during the last month. That’s lowered the trading-implied chance of the deal closing to about 44 %. It’s already been over a yr for the reason that merger was introduced, and AT&T’s shares have fallen 11 % since.

The knee-jerk response could also be to begin speaking of the deal being blocked, nevertheless it’s far too quickly to make that prediction. AT&T has no cause to conform to what it most likely sees as excessive concessions. See you in court docket.

This column doesn’t essentially mirror the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its house owners.

Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist overlaying offers. She beforehand wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.

To contact the creator of this story: Tara Lachapelle in New York at [email protected]

To contact the editor chargeable for this story: Beth Williams at [email protected]

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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