It’s been nine months since AT&T announced a deal to buy Time Warner — the media company that owns HBO and Warner Bros. — for more than $80 billion, and it’s starting to look like regulatory review of the deal is moving toward a conclusion and eventual approval.
Bloomberg reported this morning that the US Justice Department is beginning to explore what conditions could be placed on the combined company to remedy some anti-competitive concerns. The department’s exploration of merger conditions suggests that the agency is leaning toward an approval of the deal. However, Bloomberg describes the discussions as being in an early stage, suggesting a decision isn’t imminent.
The report doesn’t say what possible conditions are being considered, though it mentions a couple that opponents of the deal would like to see: a prohibition of AT&T prioritizing its own content online, and requirements that AT&T’s DirecTV offer competing premium channels, like Showtime, alongside HBO.
That the Justice Department would move toward an approval, with some light conditions, is not terribly surprising. Mergers like this are rarely blocked, and the Republican-controlled government isn’t likely to be interested in blocking the deal anyway. While President Trump argued against the merger on the campaign trail last year, he hasn’t done much to suggest an opposition to it lately (aside from tweeting insults at Time Warner-owned CNN).
Bloomberg points out that Trump’s antitrust nominee is still awaiting confirmation, and he could change the review’s outcome if he gets approved in time. The report says that he’s not a fan of putting behavioral conditions on mergers, like the ones the department is apparently exploring. But that suggests his possible arrival might only help the deal along — without any stipulations.