AT&T Inc said on Saturday it agreed to buy Time Warner Inc for $85.4 billion, the boldest move yet by a telecommunications company to acquire content to stream over its high-speed network to attract a growing number of online viewers.
The biggest deal in the world this year will, if approved by regulators, give AT&T control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets. The tie-up will likely face intense scrutiny by U.S. antitrust enforcers worried that AT&T might try to limit distribution of Time Warner material.
AT&T will pay $107.50 per Time Warner share, in a combination of cash and stock, worth $85.4 billion overall, according to a company statement. AT&T said it expected to close the deal by the end of 2017.
Dallas-based AT&T said it and Time Warner were determining which Federal Communications Commission licenses, if any, would be transferred to AT&T in the deal.
Several U.S. lawmakers were already worried about cable company Comcast Corp's $30 billion acquisition of NBCUniversal, creating an industry behemoth. They argued for close regulatory scrutiny of the AT&T deal.
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has complained about media coverage of his campaign, said at a rally on Saturday he would block any AT&T-Time Warner deal if he wins the Nov. 8 election.
"It's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," said Trump.
Representatives of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CONTENT PLUS DELIVERY
AT&T, whose main wireless phone and broadband service business is showing signs of slowing, has already made moves to turn itself into a media powerhouse. It bought satellite TV provider DirecTV last year for $48.5 billion.
It had about 142 million North American wireless subscribers as of June 30, and about 38 million video subscribers through DirecTV and its U-verse service.
New York-based Time Warner is a major force in movies, TV and video games. Its assets include the HBO, CNN, TBS and TNT networks as well as the Warner Bros film studio, producer of the “Batman” and “Harry Potter” film franchises. The company also owns a 10 percent stake in video streaming site Hulu. The HBO network alone has more than 130 million subscribers.
The deal is the latest in the consolidation of the telecom and media sectors, coming on the heels of AT&T's purchase of NBCUniversal. AT&T's wireless rival Verizon Communications Inc is in the process of buying internet company Yahoo Inc for about $4.8 billion.
Time Warner Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bewkes rejected an $80 billion offer from Twenty-First Century Fox Inc in 2014.
5G IS COMING
Owning more content gives cable and telecom companies bargaining leverage with other content companies as customers demand smaller, hand-picked cable offerings or switch to watching online. New mobile technology including next-generation 5G networks could make a content tie-up especially attractive for wireless providers.
"We think 5G mobile is coming, we think 5G mobile is an epic game-changer," Rich Tullo, director of research at Albert Fried & Co, said in a research note, adding that mobile providers would be in position to disrupt traditional pay-TV services.
A previous Time Warner blockbuster deal, its 2000 merger with AOL, is now considered one of the most ill-advised corporate marriages on record.
(Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Liana Baker, Malathi Nayak and Diane Bartz; Writing by Bill Rigby; Editing by David Gregorio)