Fox Business host Charlie Gasparino said on his Monday show that he expects regulators under the Trump administration to approve the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner, even as he repeatedly bashed the deal as a candidate on the campaign trail.
“Here’s what we’re getting from the market as bankers working from the deal are reading the tea leaves — that there is increasing market optimism that a deal that Donald Trump said he was against on the campaign trail, he will actually approve it going forward,” Gasparino said. “They point to the free market people that are likely to be in his justice department under Jeff Sessions and the anti-trust division, and Mr. [Ajit] Pai at the FCC has reasons for, if you look at their records, are more likely to approve this deal than not.”
AT&T agreed to acquire Time Warner in October in an $85 billion deal that would combine assets including the Warner Bros. studio, CNN, HBO, DirecTV and AT&T Wireless in one massive conglomerate and make AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. But Time Warner’s CNN, which the president has picked a feud with and routinely calls “fake news,” could be a stumbling block.
Stephenson met with Trump earlier this month and denied a CNN spin-off was in the cards in a CNBC interview. However, CNN is a very profitable asset that other media companies would certainly consider buying, and the company’s financial situation is healthy enough to conceivably stand alone. Gasparino said bankers he’s spoken with think sacrificing CNN at the altar may be the best way to get the powers that be to bless the deal.
“Here’s the one caveat that bankers are saying represents a possibility to make [the AT&T-Time Warner deal] fly through, because there’s still going to be some opposition, particularly from concentration of power, AT&T having 25 percent of all distribution of programming and having the cable TV network like CNN cable news network in there,” Gasparino said. “You may see, what bankers are saying, is a potential spin off of CNN to make this deal go by. There is a lot of talk about that, and there will be buyers. We should point out that CBS in the past has expressed some interest in buying CNN if that became an issue with other potential deals. So that’s where we are right now.”