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Trump, Clinton’s VP Express Concerns About AT&T-Time Warner Deal

Merger

Edward Gately**Editor’s Note: Please click here for a recap of the biggest channel-impacting mergers in July-August 2016.**

Opponents already are lining up against AT&T’s planned acquisition of Time Warner in a stock and cash transaction valued at $84.5 billion.

The deal combines Time Warner’s library of content and ability to create new premium content with AT&T’s “extensive customer relationships, world’s largest pay TV subscriber base and leading scale in TV, mobile and broadband distribution,” according to the carrier.

“With great content, you can build truly differentiated video services, whether it’s traditional TV, OTT or mobile,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and CEO. “Our TV, mobile and broadband distribution and direct customer relationships provide unique insights from which we can offer addressable advertising and better tailor content. It’s an integrated approach and we believe it’s the model that wins over time.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump already has come out against the deal.{ad}

“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he said during a speech on Saturday.

Tim Kaine, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate, told Meet the Press Sunday that he has “concerns and questions” about the proposed acquisition.

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of them,” he said. “Less concentration I think is generally helpful, especially in the media. But this has just been announced, and I haven’t had a chance to dig into the details. But those are the kinds of questions that we need to be asking.”

Calling the competition-related comments from Trump and Kaine “uninformed,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson pointed out how his company’s new DirecTV Now streaming service costs just $35 per month.

“Anybody who characterizes this as a means to raise prices is ignoring the basic premise of what we’re trying to do here,” said Stephenson.

The combined company plans to deliver enhanced access to premium content on all of its devices, new choices for mobile and streaming video services, and a stronger competitive alternative to cable TV companies, AT&T said. With a mobile network that covers more than 315 million people in the United States, the combined company will “strive to become the first U.S. mobile provider to compete nationwide with cable companies in the provision of bundled mobile broadband and video,” it said.

“Combining with AT&T dramatically accelerates our ability to deliver our great brands and premium content to consumers on a multi-platform basis and to capitalize on the tremendous opportunities created by the growing demand for video content,” said Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner’s chairman and CEO. “That’s been one of our most important strategic priorities and we’re already making great progress — both in partnership with our distributors, and on our own by …

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… connecting directly with consumers. Joining forces with AT&T will allow us to innovate even more quickly and create more value for consumers along with all our distribution and marketing partners, and allow us to build on a track record of creative and financial excellence that is second to none in our industry.”

Laura MacCleery, vice president of policy and mobilization for Consumer Reports, said the “argument that ‘bigger is better’ rarely rings true for consumers.”

“As we review the details of this deal, it feels like ‘Comcast-NBCUniversal: The Sequel,’ and that’s a red flag,” she said. “If AT&T gains control over all of this premium content, it’s difficult to see how that leads to more competition and choice for consumers. This combined company would have enormous power and influence over what we watch and read, how we get it, and how much we pay for it. We are going to keep digging deep into this deal and press regulators to make sure consumers don’t get slammed.”{ad}

Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said there are “good reasons” to be skeptical that further consolidation in the communications industry could be good for consumers.

“Vertical integration between programming and distribution in particular raises a number of issues: DirecTV, for instance, might favor Time Warner content, crowding out or refusing to carry alternative and independent programming that viewers might prefer,” said John Bergmayer, Public Knowledge’s senior counsel. “AT&T could also give preferential treatment to its own programming and services on its broadband networks — indeed, it has already announced that it plans to zero-rate its upcoming online video service.”


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