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AT&T/TW: DirecTV Now Only the Beginning

If Randall Stephenson and Jeff Bewkes have their way, AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner will finally usher in the long-heralded era of TV Everywhere.

Stephenson, the chairman and CEO of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), and Bewkes, the chairman and CEO of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX), argue that the proposed marriage of their two companies will accelerate the shift by the media and pay-TV industries to a fully on-demand world where all video content is available anywhere at any time on any device. Speaking on a conference call with financial analysts Monday morning, Stephenson and Bewkes said the AT&T/Time Warner combination will force other pay-TV and content providers to jump into the mobile, on-demand market as well. (See AT&T's $85B Time Warner Takeover Is a Media Game Changer.)

With the $85.4 billion vertical integration deal, "we are in a unique position to lead and accelerate" this historic shift, Stephenson said. "I expect the rest of the industry will innovate with us."

Bewkes noted that Time Warner has been trying to prod pay-TV providers, and particularly cable operators, to deliver all channels as free, VoD offerings on both their TV and broadband platforms for years, with limited success. "We need to go where the consumers are going," he said, especially mobile and on-demand.

AT&T plans to go there first with DirecTV Now, the not-so-skinny-bundle OTT service that it's launching with more than 100 TV channels next month. It then plans to follow with other mobile-oriented OTT services that the company has not yet detailed. "There are a lot of things we really aspire to do with this platform." Stephenson said.

With Time Warner's vast line-up of TV networks and movie studios in hand by the end of next year, Stephenson said, AT&T will be able to integrate prime content into these services and launch new on-demand offerings much quicker than before. He complained that it has taken at least three years to nail down the complicated content rights deals for the company's planned mobile video services.

"It's required a lot of heavy lifting to get the content rights," he said. "It took a lot of work ... now we can begin to integrate and innovate our content much quicker."

Well aware of the regulatory, political and consumer concerns about the proposed mega-merger, AT&T and Time Warner executives contended that the deal would not harm competition in the pay-TV and media sectors in any way. Stressing that it's purely a vertical integration deal, they said it will not remove any competitors from either market. (See Trump: Dump AT&T/TW & Comcast/NBC.)

"The structure of this industry will not change," said David McAtee, senior executive vice president and general counsel of AT&T. "There's no loss of competition. The distribution model does not change. What does change is that the deal brings together wireless and content for the first time."

In fact, AT&T and Time Warner officials argued, the union of their two companies should spur greater competition and innovation in the pay-TV, media and mobile spaces as rivals seek to match their strengthened capabilities. They also argued that the deal should spark greater competition in the online and mobile advertising markets as the new AT&T locks horns with the likes of Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). "Advertisers need more competition, another advertising choice that's equally efficient to Facebook and Google," Bewkes said.

Asserting that the US government has never rejected a vertical integration merger, AT&T officials said they expect that federal regulators may impose certain conditions on the deal, as they did on Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s earlier purchase of NBC Universal . But they declined to speculate what those conditions might be.

Responding to criticism by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump over the weekend and other concerns about the editorial integrity of CNN and other Time Warner properties, AT&T issued a brief statement saying that Time Warner would run as a completely autonomous division with no interference from above. "My board and I are clear -- CNN will remain completely independent from an editorial perspective," Stephenson said.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

KBode 10/24/2016 | 3:56:43 PM
Re: Technology Companies If AT&T can raise the cost of building a streaming competitor, and penalize customers who use competing services via zero rating, I'm not sure cost savings are anywhere on the horizon under this deal. 
danielcawrey 10/24/2016 | 1:04:09 PM
Technology Companies This is all about going up against the tech companies, who clearly see the advantage of having control of content. 

It's going to be interesting to watch this battle in the years ahead, my hope is that this direct content model will lead to lower prices. 
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