Time Warner execs talked up their $85 billion sale agreement with AT&T in their quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts. But they seemed unable to reassure investors about one of their biggest concerns: whether the deal offering $107.50 a share will pass muster with government regulators.
Time Warner doesn’t know whether the FCC will have a say. That would require the deal to serve the public interest — not just satisfy the Justice Department’s antitrust concerns.
A lot depends on whether Time Warner has to transfer to AT&T any licenses allowing it to use the public airwaves, which the FCC regulates. The company is still reviewing which, if any, have to be included in the sale.
“There aren’t material licenses that are the bedrock of our business that AT&T would need,” General Counsel Paul Cappuccio says.
CEO Jeff Bewkes noted that Time Warner’s recent purchase of a 10% stake in Hulu won’t be affected by the AT&T deal. The pacts would give the telco interests in Hulu as well as its own DirecTV Now — planned live streaming services that will go head-to-head next year offering low-priced alternatives to traditional pay TV.
“We have a passive 10% investment” in Hulu, Bewkes says. “We don’t think the merger changes anything.”
Execs reiterated the companies’ view that consumers will benefit from the combination of the No. 1 TV distributor and No. 2 wireless company with the owner of major cable networks including CNN, TNT, TBS, and HBO, and Warner Bros.
“This is a deal that is plainly pro-competitive,” Cappuccio says. “It’s not a concentration of anything.”
The companies can use the data that AT&T collects about its users to help advertisers target sales pitches, Bewkes says. That will “shift costs from subscription payments to advertiser payment.”
He also says that “it’s good for everybody if we have a broader number of competitors” in digital advertising, a business that’s dominated by Google and Facebook.
As for his future with the company, Bewkes says that he and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson will “figure out what’s the way to go over the long run.” AT&T is “very understanding of the need to keep this company excelling and growing” including for “creative partners outside the company.”
Bewkes sidestepped a question about whether any companies besides AT&T showed interest in buying Time Warner.
HBO chief Richard Plepler declined to say exactly how many people have signed up for his HBO Now streaming service. He also said that the AT&T deal doesn’t necessarily presume that HBO will be packaged as a sweetener with subscriptions to wireless or satellite services.
“We’re going to stay with the deal that we have, which is turbocharging HBO,” Plepler says. “I don’t think the merger has an impact on that one way or the other.”
Time Warner told analysts that Warner Bros. likely will drive the company’s Q4 results with the release this month of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. But costs could grow by a double digit percentage at HBO, which is premiering four new programs, and at the Turner networks as a higher priced contract when the NBA kicks in.