Martin responded gingerly to questions about the Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger on antitrust grounds, expressing optimism that the $85.4 billion combination ultimately would close.
“The deal was announced 15, 16 months ago,” said Martin. “At this point, I think everybody wants a little clarity.”
Martin said the Trump administration’s opposition to the deal is unprecedented in the history of such vertical integrations and creates an environment of uncertainty. He declined to address questions about whether it’s rooted in the White House’s enmity toward CNN.
But the Turner executive says he’s doing his best to keep his staff focused on executing its strategy.
Freer seemed comparatively zen about the fate of Hulu under a majority ownership of the Walt Disney Co. The Burbank entertainment giant would acquire 60% stake in the streaming service if its bid to acquire Fox receives regulatory approval.
“We’re lucky. We get to ignore all the noise,” said Freer. “We’re right in the middle of everything.”
Freer said Hulu — which was created as big media’s defense against the threat of YouTube and now is cast as the leading opposition to Netflix — is gaining momentum and adding subscribers to its on-demand streaming and live-TV services.
“Finally we have a path to scale, we have huge momentum, and we’re really excited about the prospects of a direct-to-consumer business,” said Freer.
Both executives addressed the elephants in the room, which the media industry likes to refer to by the predatory acronym FANG — short for Facebook, Amazon (and Apple), Netflix and Google. The giant media combinations were conceived as a strategy to survive the coming incursions from the tech giants.
“What the government is missing, looking at these mergers, is we’re competing in the land of giants,” said Martin. “If you don’t think Google and Amazon are the giants, think again.”
The tech companies can pour billions of dollars in resources into programming. Martin said companies that ultimately triumph will be those that know how to build and nurture passionate fan communities around their entertainment offerings.
“When you think about competing against these large digital companies they’re still, at their core, … utilities,” Martin said. “The last time I checked nobody has a massive connection with their search history, and nobody has a massive connection with their shopping cart.”