AT&T is buying Time Warner, owner of the Warner Bros. movie studio as well as HBO and CNN, for $85.4 billion in a deal that could shake up the media landscape.
The merger combines a telecom giant that owns a leading cellphone business, DirecTV and internet service with the company behind some of the world's most popular entertainment. It's the latest tie-up between the owners of digital distribution networks — think cable and phone companies — and entertainment and news providers, one aimed at shoring up businesses upended by the internet.
The deal would make Time Warner the target of the two largest media-company acquisitions on record, according to Dealogic. The highest was AOL's disastrous $94 billion acquisition of Time Warner at the end of the dot-com boom.
Shares of Time Warner soared more than 8% Friday to $89.67 after reports surfaced it was in advanced talks to be acquired by AT&T, which owns DirecTV and provides wireless and Internet services. AT&T shares fell 3% to $37.52.
Consumers are rapidly flocking to digital media and increasingly ditching their traditional cable and satellite TV offerings. In response, telecommunications service providers are eager to diversify their revenue sources beyond just providing their "pipes" for distributing media content.
In July, Verizon, which offers cable TV, wireless and Internet services, agreed to pay $4.8 billion to buy Yahoo's core businesses, including Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Finance. Last year, Verizon also paid $4.4 billion to buy AOL.
AT&T has been moving more slowly to broaden its media content portfolio. Last year, it paid about $49 billion to buy satellite TV service provider DirecTV, a deal that expanded its pay-TV market reach nationwide. With more customers subscribing to its Internet, wireless and TV offerings, AT&T now plans to focus on buying more media and entertainment companies, Bloomberg reported.
Time Warner's assets, particularly HBO, sports programming and Warner Bros., are highly prized by other media companies. In July, 2014, 21st Century Fox, controlled by billionaire mogul Rupert Murdoch, offered to pay about $80 billion for Time Warner, or $84 a share in cash and stock. If completed, it would have been at the time the largest media merger since the disastrous AOL purchase of Time Warner for $162 billion in 2000.
A month later, Murdoch withdrew the offer after Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said his company was worth more and rejected it.
Time Warner once operated a cable TV service unit, but spun it off in 2009 to focus on media content businesses. Time Warner Cable, the spun-off business, was acquired by Charter Communications last year for $56 billion.