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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Praises Decision to Cancel ‘Roseanne’

The risks of getting into the content business may have been brought into sharp relief by Disney’s ongoing controversy with Roseanne Barr, but that hasn’t cooled Randall Stephenson’s interest in acquiring Time Warner.

The AT&T CEO gave an on-stage interview Wednesday at the Code Conference in which he praised Disney CEO Bob Iger on moving swiftly to cancel the ABC series “Roseanne” in the wake of its star’s racist tweet.

“You have to admire how he did that,” said Stephenson. “I can’t imagine how you would not.”

Stephenson spoke of being counseled by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes about what it takes to maintain a creative culture at a media company in which you can’t always control what talent is going to say or do. “It’s going to take a very disciplined managerial approach,” he said.

Stephenson joked at the opening of his Q&A that he recently told Turner’s Kevin Reilly about Barr: “You may be tempted. Do not go sign (her) up.”

Stephenson wasn’t too forthcoming on the subject of awaiting a verdict in a trial that will determine the fate of its $85 billion merger with Time Warner. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon is expected to announce his decision on June 12th. He also didn’t elaborate much beyond last month when Stephenson characterized his company’s decision to hire the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as a “big mistake.”

“i don’t have much to add beyond the statement of what a big mistake it was,” Stephenson told interviewer Peter Kafka, senior editor at Recode. “President Trump came into office and no one knew the offfice or the staff he was putting around him.”

Cohen was paid $600,000 to counsel AT&T on how to deal with the administration across a range of policy-related issues. Several senators have since called on Stephenson to further clarify AT&T’s dealings with Cohen.

Stephenson reiterated the potential for the merger’s success lie in harnessing the power of the data coming from its massively scaled mobile and pay-TV subscriber bases would benefit targeted advertising opportunities against the premium content Time Warner brings to the table.

Stephenson spoke of AT&T’s development of a virtual MVPD service with no sports channels, allowing it to be priced at $15 per month. AT&T is already in the skinny bundle market with the $40 DirecTV Now, which upgraded its functionality last month.

In its closing arguments last month, the Justice Department recommended a “meaningful remedy” for making the merger palatable would be AT&T’s divestment of one of its core assets, which include Turner Broadcasting and DirecTV.

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