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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s promise to stop the merger of Time Warner and AT&T are “uninformed comments,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said Tuesday.
Besides Trump, Democratic vp candidate Tim Kaine has expressed concerns about AT&T’s intent to buy Time Warner for about $85 billion, and Stephenson’s “uninformed comments” remark applied to Kaine, as well.
Stephenson made his assessment at the WSJ.D Live event in Laguna Beach, Calif.
“I’m not surprised. They are uninformed comments,” Stephenson said when asked about remarks Trump and Kaine made about the merger agreement. “Anybody who characterizes this as a means to raise prices is ignoring the basic premise of what we’re trying to do here.”
As evidence, Stephenson announced Tuesday that DirecTV Now, a streaming video service, will launch in November for only $35 a month. “That’s not a medium for raising prices,” he said.
“You’re not changing the market structure in any way, shape or form,” he said of the impending merger. “You’re not changing the broadband market, you’re not changing the wireless market. When we wake up after this deal is approved, the wireless market will look exactly the same as it does today, and the media market will look the same.”
Stephenson said Tuesday he was “quite confident” that government regulators would pore over every aspect of the pending merger, but that he’s also confident it will be approved because “the data and the law will dictate.”
That data, said Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes on the same stage Tuesday, suggests the merger will lead to “more competition and lower prices.”
Bewkes also said the merger will boost competition in advertising, which has been flowing out of traditional media and into digital media — primarily Facebook and Google — for years. In fact, he called those two internet companies a “duopoly.”
“We work with them and know them well. There’s one thing they love, and that’s innovation and competition, and we are here to help,” Bewkes quipped, drawing laughter from the crowd of journalists, analysts and investors.
Markets are predicting only a 29 percent chance that government regulators will approve the AT&T-Time Warner deal, according to The Wall Street Journal, but Stephenson said he’s far more confident than that.
“I wish I could buy Time Warner stock in advance,” Stephenson said, a reference to the fact that the stock is trading for $87 while AT&T’s offer is for north of $100 per share.
“Regulators will have some concerns with this. I’m quite confident they will,” Stephenson said of the merger. “Those concerns are invariably remedied with conditions.”
One reason Trump is against the merger is that he doesn’t want to see the parent of CNN to grow into an even bigger, more powerful company with the potential for conflicts of interest in its news reporting, but Stephenson also addressed those issues.
“This is to the AT&T board,” he said. “When you own a news company, independence is sacrosanct. You must protect the independent editorial privileges of that news organization. To the extent that your customers deem otherwise, you damage the brand of a CNN.”
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