Peter Chernin is destined to take a major role overseeing Time Warner if a potential AT&T acquisition comes to fruition as expected, according to industry sources.
The formalization of that role may take time to crystallize, as the proposed merger — assuming it passes federal muster — would be about a year off.
Chernin, 65, is said to be uninterested in a day-to-day executive job, but that does not preclude a significant role overseeing the combined company's content operations. Through a spokesperson, Chernin declined to comment. The deal, which Reuters reported would value Time Warner at $85 billion (or $110 per share), is said to be in the final stages of negotiation and could be announced Monday.
For years, Chernin has been deeply involved in the media world — at times working closely with AT&T — while keeping a fairly low profile. He runs his eponymous production company, investing here, advising there, potentially putting himself in a position to run a media giant but never alighting anywhere. There has been speculation about him landing a top job at NBCUniversal, Disney, Yahoo or any other place where a gig worthy of his experience was to be had.
For years, meanwhile, Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes prepped for an eventual sale of his company, parent of HBO, CNN, the Warner Bros. film and television studios, and the Turner television networks. He slimmed it down, spun off assets including Time Warner Cable, and installed top managers with more experience on the business rather than creative side of entertainment — notably Kevin Tsujihara at Warner Bros. While Bewkes rebuffed Rupert Murdoch's offer, valued at $80 billion, in 2014, he has long been regarded in the industry as a seller. Many Hollywood insiders marveled, for example, at his seeming indifference as the Warners film studio suffered through an ill-fated management bakeoff. His eyes were on another prize.
Chernin, who recently finished a term as a Twitter board member, has had a relationship with AT&T for several years via Otter Media, a joint venture between the telecom giant and his Chernin Group founded in 2014 with a $500 million commitment to invest in, acquire and develop over-the-top video services such as YouTube network Fullscreen and anime subscription service Crunchyroll. Just yesterday, Chernin said Time Warner would be attractive to AT&T and sung its praises in a CNBC interview. "They understand the content business," he said of AT&T, which bought DirecTV last year.
Prior to Otter and the Chernin Group, best known as the company behind the rejuvenated Planet of the Apes film franchise, Chernin was an executive at Murdoch’s News Corp. for two decades. Under Murdoch, Chernin was regarded as one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood. When he ran Fox Broadcasting, he took it to No. 1 in the 18-49 demographic, and when he ran 20th Century Fox Television it became the top supplier of shows to all networks.
As head of Fox Filmed Entertainment, he oversaw production of Titanic and Avatar, which remain the top two films in history in terms of worldwide box office, combining for nearly $5 billion.
Chernin was eventually made president and COO at News Corp. (long before it split from 21st Century Fox), which might have made him Murdoch’s successor if not for the mogul’s desire to eventually turn the conglomerate over to his sons, James and Lachlan.
Chernin left News Corp. in 2009 and founded the Chernin Group the following year. The company’s Chernin Entertainment has a first-look deal with Fox for both film and TV projects, the latter of which has produced titles like New Girl. The Fox deal, though, would likely need a tweak if Chernin is to be installed at Time Warner.
Paul Bond and Natalie Jarvey contributed to this report.