Comcast and Verizon have a few things to worry about. But even if AT&T now has Warner Bros. and Batman, along with HBO, could this count as a monopoly?
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T is finalizing the purchase of Time Warner Inc., the media giant that owns HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros., which includes Batman. The deal is worth at least $80 billion, with some outlets on Friday claiming that it could amount to more than $85 billion. AT&T and Time Warner are expected to announce the acquisition as early as Saturday evening.
The move marks a growing trend of American cable providers buying out media companies: Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2013, and Verizon bought AOL in 2016 and then Yahoo this year (though Yahoo’s acquisition could be taken back due to the Yahoo hack of 500 million accounts two years prior to the deal). Still, AT&T’s purchase price, and the number of important media brands it acquires as part of this deal, is noticeably higher than Comcast’s and Verizon’s: Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal was $16.7 billion and Verizon bought AOL and Yahoo combined for less than $10 billion. Also, AT&T bought DirecTV for $48.5 billion in 2014.
If this deal goes through, it could cause some shakeups in how customers view the different providers. Despite Comcast’s reputation as “the most hated internet provider in America,” they held the advantage of owning a major content creator in NBCUniversal. Now AT&T, which consistently rates better than both Comcast and Verizon among its internet customers, and comes up second against Verizon’s FiOS for pay TV, could become more appealing if they find a way to integrate their offerings with Time Warner Inc. content or perks.
Could this count as a monopoly?
First, it is important to note that Time Warner Inc., the media company that AT&T is buying, is not that the same company as Time Warner Cable, another prominent cable provider that Comcast attempted to acquire and failed to in 2015 because the US Justice Department was close to recommending that the deal violated antitrust laws and should be put off. In 2009, Time Warner Inc. and Time Warner Cable separated as two different entities, with AOL also going its own way having been part of Time Warner as well.
That said, this does mark the largest buyout that an American cable provider has done of a media company in the history of the United States. Yes, it’s really that huge a deal. Such a business consolidation could bring antitrust lawsuits claiming that such a merger could reduce competition in the cable provider space. For more expertise on this line of thought, we have reached out to several lawyers who specialize in antitrust cases, and will update this article when we hear back from them.
The other big question, though, is if this mammoth deal will shift more viewers away from Netflix, Hulu, and other internet content providers back to traditional cable TV, which has suffered amid the “Netflix and chill” era. While this is an uphill battle against the internet-based services, I for one would consider switching my ISP to AT&T if I received a better deal for premium channels like HBO.
Featured image credit: Warner Bros.