After its acquisition of satellite television service DirecTV, telephone giant AT&T Inc. might be setting its sights on an even bigger prize, Time Warner Inc.
Bloomberg News reported Thursday afternoon that AT&T and Time Warner executives have engaged in preliminary talks about a potential merger or other partnerships.
Time Warner shares jumped on news of the talks, closing up $3.75, or 4.7 percent, to $82.99. The New York media company owns HBO, CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS and Hollywood’s largest film and TV studio, Warner Bros.
Representatives of AT&T and Time Warner declined to comment.
Such a combination would transform AT&T, based in Dallas, into a communications and entertainment colossus with multiple distribution outlets – including one of the nation’s largest mobile phone networks – and some of the most prestigious television channels in the business. Warner Bros. also has a rich library of characters, including DC Comics and such cartoon characters as Scooby-Doo and the Looney Tunes zoo, including Bugs Bunny and Sylvester the Cat.
In some ways, AT&T-Time Warner would resemble cable giant Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal – but AT&T would be even bigger with its mobile phone operations. AT&T already operates the nation’s largest pay-TV service with more than 25 million customers.
Like other telecommunications companies, AT&T has been eager to expand into the entertainment business as its mobile phone market matures. Owning content has become more valuable as more consumers, especially younger ones, watch entertainment on their phones.
AT&T completed its $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV, based in El Segundo, California, in July 2015. Later this year the company plans to roll out a streaming service of TV channels to compete with traditional TV operators.
AT&T has been working with an executive with considerable chops in Hollywood, former News Corp. President Peter Chernin, who now runs his own entertainment company. He and AT&T have partnered on several ventures, including Otter Media, suggesting that Chernin might play a role in the talks with Time Warner.
Such a massive merger, however, would probably trigger significant antitrust concerns. It would come during a changing of the guard in Washington and it’s unclear whether regulators within a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton administration would consent to such a dramatic consolidation.
The discussions come two years after Time Warner warded off a hostile takeover bid from Rupert Murdoch and his sons at 21st Century Fox. That deal valued Time Warner at more than $75 billion, but it collapsed amid resistance from Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes and Time Warner’s board.
Time Warner is currently valued at $65 billion. AT&T’s market capitalization is $238 billion.
Time Warner, in recent years, has accelerated its push into digital media, launching HBO Now nearly 18 months ago. This summer, Time Warner took a 10 percent stake in the streaming service Hulu, which is owned by NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney.
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