The exec made the comment at the Wells Fargo Media & Telecom Conference in New York. Both companies have contended for months that a close was imminent, though last week word came that the Justice Department was considering filing a lawsuit to block the deal. Some consumer groups and TV entities have objected to the deal because it would concentrate a lot of distribution and content power.
“All approvals have been received but for the DOJ,” Stephens said. “We are in active discussions with the DOJ. I cannot comment on those discussions,” he said. “But with those discussions I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain.”
While the FCC now leans to the right and is looking to strip away layers of regulation under chairman Ajit Pai, the DOJ has less clearly articulated motives. Complicating this particular review further is the role of CNN as a constant whipping post for President Donald Trump. Speculation has swirled for months that he might move to block the deal or force Time Warner to spin the news network out.
The news sent shares of Time Warner down 3% to $92.18 in early trading while AT&T was down a fraction to $33.01.
Media mergers have been a major theme of late. On Monday, reports surfaced that Disney had approached 21st Century Fox and held talks about acquiring several of its key film and TV assets. It is unclear if those deal talks will resume, but Disney and other major entities are likely to recombine as the landscape becomes more consolidated.
Fox execs will likely field many merger questions today from Wall Street analysts when it reports earnings after the closing bell.