The AT&T-Time Warner merger is one of the most highly anticipated moves in the telecom space, as it brings together two major players in the broadcast and communications market. However, several factors have made the merger extremely difficult to predict, the New York Times reports.
For antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice, they still lack a boss who’d be able to finalize the deal. As the Times points out, President Donald Trump previously nominated former lobbyist Makan Delrahim to lead the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, but his nomination is still being processed within the Senate.
The merger is also notable because of the scale of its partners. Time Warner maintains a massive portfolio of cable and media properties including HBO and CNN, while AT&T holds both its telecommunications division and DirecTV.
In addition, Trump and administration officials have remained unpredictable about the merger in their public statements. Major administration appointees have generally come from pro-business interests who’ve favored the merger. In an October interview with Canadian network BNN, Delrahim previously dismissed regulatory concerns about the merger.
"Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media, I think will get a lot of attention," Delrahim said. "However, I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem."
However, Trump has regularly stated his opposition to the deal. During the presidential election, Trump blasted the merger between AT&T and Time Warner and in an October campaign stop, said he would veto it because the deal was “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
Trump’s continuing feud with CNN also plays a role in the his opposition to the deal and it could move beyond posting GIFs on Twitter : administration officials have looked into using their position over the merger as leverage toward CNN. The Trump administration’s support for the merger could also depend on if current president Jeff Zucker remains at the network, according to The Daily Caller.
The merger between AT&T and Time Warner was originally announced last fall with a price tag of around $85.4 billion. The move was also the latest high-profile for acquisition for AT&T, which purchased DirecTV in 2014 for $48.5 billion. Publicly, executives at both companies have long been confident in the deal’s passage. Earlier this year, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he expects the merger to close by the year’s end.
Within the industry, the AT&T-Time Warner merger is also the latest high-profile partnership as companies increasingly look to consolidate distribution and content options. In 2011, Comcast and NBCUniversal closed their own $30 billion acquisition and within the past year, companies including Verizon, Yahoo and internet service provider Charter Communications have been similarly aggressive in the space.