Further Telecom M&A Hinges On Outcome Of AT&T-Time Warner Deal, Partners Say


The telecom industry is waiting with bated breath for the decision on whether AT&T and Time Warner are allowed to merge, and the outcome could give the green light to similar tie-ups between carriers and content providers, channel partners said.

If approved, the proposed $85.4 billion mega-merger between AT&T, one of the largest carriers in the country, and media giant Time Warner, could set the tone for the kinds of consolidation the current Republican-led administration will allow.

Patrick Oborn, co-founder of Sandy, Utah-based master agent Telarus, said that if approved, the deal would "absolutely" open the door for more telecom and content combinations.

"In this industry when a company makes a blockbuster deal, everyone feels like they need a response, or face being left behind. If you're only making money on the delivery, and everyone else is making money on the content, which is where the margins are rich, you might be at a disadvantage," he said.

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[Related: Comcast Says It May Outbid Disney For 21st Century Fox As Battle Over Content Continues ]

The AT&T-Time Warner deal was first proposed in 2016, and the court battle between Dallas-based AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice, which began in March , ended in May. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is expected to either approve or deny the deal on Tuesday.

In the meantime, reports surfaced on Monday that said if the AT&T/Time Warner deal was passed, cable giant Comcast will formalize its all-cash bid for 21st Century Fox's content assets on Wednesday. According to the report, Comcast's lawyers want the chance to review the details of Leon's decision before making its bid public, people familiar with the matter said.

Comcast, based in Philadelphia, confirmed rumors in May that it is poised to go up against a $52.4 billion bid from Disney to acquire most of Fox's entertainment arm. Comcast currently owns NBCUniversal, a multinational media conglomerate that includes television networks, a motion picture company, TV production operations, and several theme parks.

Comcast did not respond to CRN's request for comment regarding its reported formal bidding plans set for Wednesday before publication.

If AT&T is given the green light to snap up Time Warner, deals like Comcast's 21st Century Fox plans should become easier to get accomplished, said Rickie Richey, CEO of Fairhope, Ala.-based solution provider Altaworx.

"I think it will not only make those kinds of deals easier, but for companies like Comcast, [which] is also trying to get into the wireless business as well, I think you'll see players getting into markets they aren't currently in today," Richey said.

While not a vertical merger, industry pundits believe that if the AT&T-Time Warner deal does succeed, it could pave the way for wireless carriers Sprint and T-Mobile to clear regulatory hurdles, a burden that the two companies weren't able to overcome in 2014.