AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson may need a new media strategy. The dealmaking chief executive who bought satellite TV provider DirecTV last year was planning to add movie and TV producer Time Warner to his company next year.
But with Donald Trump’s surprise win in the presidential election, that merger may be dead.
Trump came out strongly against the transaction last month, saying at one rally it was “a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” Later the same day, his campaign released a statement saying Trump “would never approve such a deal because it concentrates too much power in the hands of the too and powerful few.”
Among other assets, Time Warner owns the CNN cable network, which Trump frequently berated as biased during the campaign.
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AT&T (T) needs to find new avenues for growth as its once strong wireless phone business slows, following the long decline in its wired telephone business. The combination of assets from DirecTV and Time Warner (TWX) was intended to give AT&T a more diversified revenue base and a strong position to attract Internet video viewers. Without Time Warner, and with a Trump administration hostile to further media consolidation, Stephenson will have to go back to the strategic drawing board.
AT&T CFO John Stephens tried to sound a hopeful note in an appearance on Wednesday morning. “From a company perspective, we really look forward to working with President-elect Trump and his transition team,” Stephen said. “Our Time Warner transaction is all about innovation and economic development, consumer choice, and investment in infrastructure with regard to providing a great 5G mobile broadband experience. So we look forward with optimism to working with the leadership and providing benefits to consumers and to our shareholders.
Even if Trump’s administration seeks to block the merger, Stephenson could fight the move in court. But that would likely result in a long and arduous legal battle while AT&T’s other businesses remained challenged.
AT&T’s biggest rival, Verizon Communications, has pursued a different media strategy, snapping up faded Internet sites AOL and Yahoo (YHOO) to make a play for digital advertising revenue. Stephenson already has an Internet-focused video service called Fullscreen that it could expand with smaller acquisitions.
Stephenson could also put greater resources behind AT&T’s push into new wireless market niches. The company is the leading provider of car connectivity, with over 10 million customers. It could see greater opportunities in that area as self-driving cars come online. Also, Verizon (VZ) has been making acquisitions to build up its market share for connected trucking, an area AT&T has yet to pursue much. And both companies expect to benefit from the growing number of connected smart devices, everything from delivery drones to data collecting street lights, known as the Internet of things.
For more on Trump’s opposition to the deal, watch:
Market reaction on Wednesday reflected the now lower odds that the deal would be completed.
Investors on Wall Street, who never bought in to Stephenson’s logic in paying $109 billion including debt for the entertainment conglomerate, appeared relieved that the deal was becoming even less likely. While the overall stock market dipped about 2%, AT&T shares actually gained almost 1% in premarket trading on Wednesday.
But for Time Warner shareholders, who were already heavily discounting AT&T’s $107.50 per share bid, the results of the election were more bad news. Shares of Time Warner slumped 3%.