AT&T Moves Closer to Gobbling Up HBO, CNN

Trump Administration is in talks on how to make the merger work, according to Bloomberg report

AT&T Time Warner
AT&T Time Warner

AT&T is moving closer to winning approval from the Trump Administration for its proposed $85.4-purchase of Time Warner, according a report by Bloomberg News.

Department of Justice anti-trust lawyers reportedly opened talks with both the telecom giant and Time Warner about possible requirements for the merger to minimize the potential harm to competitors, the Bloomberg report said.

“The early-stage discussions suggest that government lawyers have nearly finished their months-long look at how AT&T, the biggest pay-TV distributor, would reshape the media landscape with its bid for the owner of CNN and HBO — and shows that the sides have moved on to talking about how they can make the merger work without harming rivals,” the report said.

AT&T believes its economic future must include in providing consumers with news, sports and entertainment on cell phones and other mobile devices, where consumers increasingly get their news and entertainment through a variety of sources, including SnapChat, a favorite of America’s youth.

Last month, Time Warner inked a deal with Snap Inc. — parent company of popular cell phone messaging app Snapchat —  to invest $100 million in Snap to partner with Warner Bros. studio for as many as 10 shows to be shown in Snap.

If the telecom giant distribution succeeds in buying Time Warner, it will be able to provide its wireless phone subscribers and satellite TV subscribers with Time Warner’s cable programing, including HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Last Night Tonight with John Oliver,” CNN’s cable news, and other content from Cartoon Network, TNT, Turner Broadcasting Systems, Warner Bros and NBA TV.

AT&T has 21 million subscribers to its DirecTV satellite television service and four million U-verse TV subscribers. It also has  134 million cell phone subscribers.

Although the deal seems to be moving closer to government approval, it is uncertain what role, if any, will be played by President Trump.  Last year, he made a populist pledge to block the merger.

“As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said during an October 2016 speech.

As President, Trump has repeatedly bashed CNN and its chief Jeff Zucker. There are conflicting reports about whether the White House will try to pressure AT&T to fire Zucker if the deal goes through.

“White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary” — CNN, according to the New York Times, which quoted an unnamed “senior administration official.”

The Washington Post said that Trump’s role in the merger is “a wild card.”

But a CNN spokesman told TheWrap that Zucker is “absolutely not” in danger of losing his job.

Democrats, consumer groups, and competitors in both the pay-TV industry and media industry have expressed concern that the merger might allow AT&T to give preferential treatment to HBO, CNN, and other Time Warner media companies, which would hurt other content-providers.

The merger also would give AT&T Time Warner’s 10 percent ownership in Hulu, which streams television shows and other content, which is now owned by Time Warner.

The deal also would put AT&T in competition with Comcast, a cable provider that bought NBCUniversal in 2011 with approval of the Obama administration’s anti-trust unit.

The Time Warner-AT&T merger does not involve Time Warner Cable, which is owned by Charter and now called Spectrum.