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AT&T, Time Warner Merger Review Reaches ‘Advanced Stage’ at Justice Department (Report)

The union of AT&T and Time Warner is looking more likely as talks on merger conditions between AT&T and Justice Department officials have reached an “advanced stage,” according to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reported that the discussions about conditions that would be required to secure federal approval of the $85.4 billion transaction are centering around concerns that AT&T could give favorable treatment on its DirecTV platforms to Time Warner-owned content. Another issue has been how the telco giant would be able to handle consumer data mined from its wireless subscriber base and viewership of its channels.

The focus on potential merger conditions are seen as a sign that the Trump administration will not throw up roadblocks to the deal, despite President Trump’s vociferous criticism of CNN, part of Time Warner. The Journal noted that Time Warner’s stock price has been on the rise in recent weeks, another sign of increasing investor confidence that the merger will make it to the finish line.

A source said AT&T and Time Warner are hopeful that the Justice Department will be ready to formally present AT&T with its merger conditions by the end of next month. The status of the regulatory review of the agreement reached back in October had been in question for some months because of the political climate around the Trump administration and because the Justice Department does not at present have a head of its anti-trust division.

Media competitors have raised concerns about AT&T’s ability to withhold Time Warner channels such as HBO from rivals or dictate unfavorable pricing terms to rival content owners. Some Democratic lawmakers have also raised concerns about the latest round of concentration of media assets that the deal signals.

AT&T and Time Warner maintain that the merger will make both media giants stronger and offer greater competition in advertising and the video arena to the deep-pocketed tech giants — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple — who are moving swiftly in varying degrees into TV content and the MVPD market.

A rep for Time Warner declined to comment. AT&T could not immediately be reached for comment.

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