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Time Warner Stock Pops on Report of AT&T Potential Merger Talks

Shares of Time Warner jumped as much as 9% Thursday following a Bloomberg report that top execs from AT&T and the media conglomerate have met to discuss a potential merger, among other possible business partnerships.

No deal has been reached, per the report, and the talks are informal for now. Time Warner and AT&T are focused on “building relations between the companies, rather than establishing the terms of a specific transaction,” according to the Bloomberg report, which cited anonymous sources.

Reps for Time Warner and AT&T declined to comment. Time Warner, whose holdings include Warner Bros., Turner and HBO, has a market cap of about $65 billion.

Time Warner shares closed up 4.7% on Thursday, to $82.99 per share. AT&T’s stock fell 1.9%, closing at $38.65 per share.

Time Warner has been in play before: In 2014, it rejected a $80 billion takeover bid from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox after concluding that “we just didn’t think it made sense” given Time Warner’s potential growth trajectory, chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said at an investor conference two years ago.

AT&T — looking for new avenues of growth as its booming wireless business begins to flatten out — has stepped up its presence in the media and entertainment sector over the last few years. Its biggest move to date has been the $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV, which it closed in July 2015. AT&T also has a joint venture with Chernin Group, called Otter Media, which is the majority owner of multiplatform network Fullscreen.

By owning Time Warner, if such a union ever happened, AT&T would look more like Comcast with NBCUniversal: a vertically integrated provider of content, distribution and access services comprising movie, TV and video-game entertainment, mobile, broadband and communications services. AT&T already has a national TV distribution footprint in DirecTV, and operates one of the U.S.’s biggest wireless networks.

A Time Warner-AT&T merger would be a back-to-the-future moment for Bewkes. In March 2009, Time Warner spun off Time Warner Cable (now part of Charter Communications), which Bewkes said at the time had different “strategic goals and capital needs” than its media businesses.

As for potential strategic partnerships, AT&T and Time Warner could possibly team up to jointly develop a direct-to-consumer entertainment offering, coupling the media company’s entertainment assets with the telco’s distribution infrastructure.

Time Warner has been looking to stake a bigger claim in the over-the-top video future as the health of the pay TV sector appears uncertain. Last year it launched the standalone HBO Now service — no cable or satellite TV required — and in August acquired a 10% stake in Hulu, joining Disney, Comcast and Fox, which now each own 30% of the streaming service.

AT&T also is prepping an OTT play with DirecTV Now, a suite of pay-TV bundles delivered over the internet set to launch this fall, while Fullscreen earlier this year rolled out a $5-per-month subscription-video service aimed at millennials with original content from some big-name internet influencers.

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