Trump’s Department Of Justice Loses As Court Approves The AT&T/Time Warner Merger

What happens now?

I’ve written a lot here about the failing studio model and consolidation happening in movie distribution, but a lot changed today as AT&T won its case and will close their acquisition with Time Warner asap. Time Warner was a target of Trump’s anger because of CNN’s negative coverage of his campaign and presidency, so while the merger made sense on paper (at least to this observer due to Comcast’s purchase of Universal getting regulatory approval), there was a lot of doubt whether the merger would go through or not. We just found it will.

The ramifications of this ruling are widespread. First and foremost, AT&T is set up to be a significant player and has direct access to the wealth of Warner’s content. Everyone knows Warner owns DC and Harry Potter but, in the streaming/digital world, a lot of content that doesn’t work theatrically will work for streaming including Friday, Mad Max, Ace Ventura, Elf, The Matrix, Scooby Doo, Gremlins, The Exorcist, Lethal Weapon, Final Destination, Police Academy, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Austin Powers, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Mask, and Harold and Kumar.

Second, Disney’s purchase of Fox may not happen. Comcast has thrown a few wrenches into this deal, first by trying to acquire Europe’s SKY on their own. Comcast is also rumored to have prepared an all-cash offer for Fox, and this announcement opens the door to Comcast making as hard a push as they can. It could very well be that the deal Comcast brings to the table will be too rich for the Fox shareholders to ignore. We’ve essentially assumed the Disney Fox deal was a foregone conclusion, but it’s only fair now to think Comcast has as good a shot as Disney. Comcast with both Fox and Universal under its roof will have majority ownership of Hulu and can rival Netflix and Disney’s streaming platform for high demand content. 

Even if Disney assured Fox Searchlight that they won’t shut their doors if they buy Fox, that seems unlikely to remain true as Disney does not want to be in the arthouse business. Comcast will likely boost Fox Searchlight if they can acquire Fox proper as they’ve struggled to make Focus work, and Fox Searchlight knows exactly how to make arthouse content work.

Third, it plays havoc with the already messy waters of the CBS/Paramount merger. There’s been some downright ugliness with how CBS looks at Paramount, and Paramount will look attractive to other media companies like Verizon, T-Mobile/Sprint and Charter.

Along these same lines, Sony and Lionsgate, who are both struggling and near the end of their individual ropes, could be interesting as acquisitions and could even merge under the Starz banner to take on Netflix, AT&T, Disney and Comcast.

Finally, we have a clear path to government approval for the next phase of studio filmmaking: more consolidation, less theatrical content from studios, and full focus for studios on streaming/digital content. Given less studio content in the future for theaters, that leaves opportunity for minis like A24, NEON, Bleecker Street and the like to fill in the space with more “niche” content as they’ve shown their model can work theatrically by targeting a younger demo with movies like Hereditary and Upgrade.