AT&T and Discovery in Talks To Combine Media Assets: Report

The logo of AT&T outside of AT&T corporate headquarters on March 13, 2020 in Dallas, Texas.
(Image credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

AT&T, just three years after buying Time Warner, is in talks about combining its media businesses with Discovery and spinning them off.

The talks, first reported by Bloomberg, would create an entity that could create enough content to compete with Netflix and The Walt Disney Co., as the television business pivots to streaming.

When AT&T acquired Time Warner, converting it into WarnerMedia, it jettisoned long-time executives and restructured the company to support HBO Max, its own streaming service. 

The company had to convert HBO subscribers to HBO Max and, slowly at first, has been adding subscribers. Last month AT&T said it had 44.2 million HBO and HBO Max subscribers at the end of the first quarter.

Also Read: Ad-Supported HBO Max to Launch in June

Meanwhile the WarnerMedia cable network portfolio faces the cord cutting has eaten into the industry’s distribution revenue growth. CNN, WarnerMedia’s news network thrived during the election and its aftermath, but its ratings have fallen in recent months.

Discovery also launched its own direct-to-consumer service, Discovery Plus, in January. It relies on lower-cost unscripted programming and charges a lower monthly fee. 

Discovery most recently reported having 15 million direct to consumer subscribers at the end of the first quarter.

Disney Plus last week reported having 103.6 million subscribers, fewer than Netflix, the leader with 208 million subscribers.

A merged company would also have to choose a leader between WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar and Discovery’s chief David Zaslav, the Bloomberg report noted.

For AT&T the deal would unwind its strategy of trying to combine content assets with its cellphone and broadband distribution businesses. It took on billions of dollars of debt buying first DirecTV, then Time Warner. 

AT&T agreed to spin off DirecTV in March

Investors have questioned AT&T's strategy and have suggested WarnerMedia be combined with NBCUniversal, the programming division of Comcast, which has also pursued a strategy of combining distribution and content assets, only to face recent criticism.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.