This is the time of year when deal speculation usually percolates: Moguls always have mergers on their minds as they prepare to huddle in early July at Allen & Co’s Sun Valley gathering for the media elite. And content companies have to be thinking more seriously than usual about their options. Their bargaining power could soon diminish if Washington regulators allow Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable, AT&T buy DirecTV, and — perhaps — Sprint buy T-Mobile.
What deals make sense? Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible tiptoed out on a limb today by making a serious attempt to answer the question — with some potentially surprising conclusions. Here are the ones that seem to offer the greatest strategic and financial benefits:
CBS and Viacom: A re-combination of Sumner Redstone’s companies “increases CBS’ exposure to affiliate fees, allows it to leverage sports/retrans across networks, provides studio content, and greatly increases its European ad exposure,” Wible says. The companies also could look for ways to harmonize Showtime with Epix (which Viacom owns with Lionsgate and MGM). A possible problem? It would be “a massive deal for CBS” which has a lower market value than Viacom.
Discovery and Scripps Networks: It would “greatly increase [Discovery's] share around non-scripted programming” although Scripps’ home, food, and lifestyle fare “may not export into international markets as seamlessly, which has been an important part of [Discovery's] current growth strategy.”
Disney and Discovery: Disney would gain viewers in Europe, and would especially enjoy blending ESPN with the Discovery-controlled Eurosport. Meanwhile, Discovery would find it easier to raise prices for pay TV providers if it’s packaged with ABC and ESPN. But regulators might look askance at a deal that would give Disney a 23.5% share of TV viewing, up from 16.6%.
Fox and Time Warner: Some high level people take this possibility seriously, although the logic of a merger is almost as compelling as the reasons why it might prove a non-starter. The companies could save a lot of cash, and increase their negotiating leverage, if they blended their movie studios and cable channels. But that’s also why regulators would probably find the combo so distasteful. And just imagine the public reaction, not to mention the internal one, at the thought of CNN aligning with Fox News. Shareholders also might balk, Wible says, as they see “cash diverted away from the return of capital that has helped boost media stocks.”
These are some possibilities, but not the only ones the analyst can imagine. Anyone for Disney and Time Warner? CBS and Discovery, AMC Networks, or Scripps? Fox and Viacom? Netflix and Starz or AMC Networks?