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AT&T, WarnerMedia Seeking to Sell TMZ to Fox

AT&T in talks to sell TMZ, founded by Harvey Levin, to Fox.
AT&T in talks to sell TMZ, founded by Harvey Levin, to Fox. (Image credit: TMZ)

AT&T, owner of WarnerMedia, is in talks to sell its TMZ franchise to Fox, according to sources. AT&T is also in the process of selling WarnerMedia to Discovery in a $43 billion merger, although that deal is not expected to close until the middle of next year.

AT&T has been selling off several businesses that it sees as non-central to its overall business. On Monday, AT&T closed on the sale of anime business Crunchyroll to Sony's Funimation group for $1.2 billion. In June it sold mobile gaming company Playdemic to Electronic Arts for $1.4 billion.

The Information first reported the story.

Fox declined to comment, although the company is a logical home for the family of entertainment news and gossip brands. Fox Television Stations air the half-hour entertainment magazine in major markets and also carry spin-off show TMZ Live, a half-hour program that sees TMZ staffers, including founder and managing editor Harvey Levin, comment on the entertainment stories of the day from TMZ’s Playa Vista studio in Los Angeles.

TMZ was launched as a website by Levin and Jim Paratore in November 2005, exploding into the public consciousness when it broke such news that Seinfeld’s Michael Richards went on a racist rant against an audience member while onstage at a Los Angeles comedy club and that Mel Gibson had gone on an anti-Semitic tirade when he was arrested for drunk driving in Malibu. Within its first year, the website quickly garnered lots of traffic and has continued to generate hits by constantly publishing new content and breaking news.

Two years later, TMZ, a half-hour TV show, debuted in national syndication, making TMZ one of the few websites to have successfully evolved into a television program. In March 2012, TMZ spun off TMZ Live, which airs on Fox Television Stations and other stations across the country. The show also has produced specials, such as TMZ Investigates, and other shows, such as TMZ Sports, which currently airs on Fox Sports 1 and as a YouTube channel.

Besides the Gibson story, TMZ has broken many major pop culture and entertainment stories, including the deaths of Michael Jackson in June 2009, Whitney Houston in February 2012, Prince in April 2016 and Kobe Bryant in February 2020. It’s also broken such stories as the NFL’s Ray Rice hitting his fiance in an elevator and former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments about such prominent NBA Black players and owners as Magic Johnson.

TMZ comes under fire from critics for sometimes paying for story tips and leads and for encouraging aggressive paparazzi to chase down celebrities. It also faced criticism from the Los Angeles Police Department and others for breaking the Kobe Bryant news before Bryant’s next of kin had been notified. 

Last year, former employee Bernadette Zilio filed suit against TMZ, alleging gender discrimination in the workplace and retaliation against her when she complained to human resources about the toxic work environment. BuzzFeed later published a story in which it spoke to one current and 23 former employees who echoed Zilio’s sentiments and experience. 

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.