Leaders of the two companies have been in marathon negotiating sessions for most of this week. Reps for Time Warner and AT&T have not responded to requests for comment.
The formal announcement of the deal could come as early as Saturday evening. The boards of both companies are expected to vote on the transaction later Saturday, the Journal reported. As predicted by Wall Street observers on Friday, the cash-and-stock deal values Time Warner at a price between $105 and $110 a share, per the Journal.
The deal marks a transformational play by AT&T chairman-CEO Randall Stephenson, one that will leave the telco giant with a debt load of nearly $200 billion. It comes barely a year after AT&T absorbed the DirecTV satellite service in a $48 billion acquisition.
For Time Warner, the union with AT&T comes 16 years after the company’s fortunes were badly damaged in the ill-timed merger with AOL at the apex of the first wave of dot-com mania, and some 26 years after the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Bros. set the template for the modern diversified and vertically integrated media conglomerate.
But TW chairman-CEO Jeffrey Bewkes has spent his eight-year tenure at the top paring down the company to three core units — HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner — squarely focused on film and TV content. The Time Warner Cable and AOL units were spun off in 2009, followed in 2014 by the Time Inc. publishing division. That streamlining process made the company more easily acquired by another sizable industry player and also made it easier for TW to command a premium for its blue-chip assets.
The AT&T deal is expected to wind up paying a TW shareholders a premium of about 30% over the stock’s recent trading price. After Bloomberg News reported the first word of the AT&T-Time Warner talks on Thursday afternoon, TW shares spiked more than 10%, closing Friday at $89.48.
AT&T’s pursuit of Time Warner was hurried along by the rumblings in the marketplace that Apple was ready to approach Time Warner with a rich offer. Apple is known to have flirted with a Time Warner deal in the not-so-distant past.
AT&T aims to enhance its DirecTV business, high-speed Internet and wireless offerings by bringing Time Warner’s top-tier content — from HBO and the Turner cable networks to Warner Bros.’ vast film and TV operations — into the fold. Because AT&T owns the industry’s largest MVPD in DirecTV and is a player in Internet access, the deal will face an arduous regulatory review process in an uncertain political environment for media mega-mergers.
On Saturday, even before the formal announcement, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he would block the AT&T-Time Warner deal if he is elected president.
In a sign of how hotly a contested subject the deal will be, the American Cable Association trade group representing smaller operators was quick to raise concerns about the market power that a combined AT&T-Time Warner would wield.
“As the FCC has found in past mergers, combining valuable content with pay-TV distribution causes harm to consumers and competition in the pay-TV market,” the ACA said in a statement issued today. “If an AT&T/Time Warner deal is forged as reported, the vertical integration of the merged company must be an issue that regulators closely examine.”