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21st Century Fox Accepts Disney’s Sweetened $71.3 Billion Offer, Outbidding Comcast

21st Century Fox has accepted an improved $71.3 billion bid from Walt Disney Co. to acquire its entertainment division, outbidding Comcast’s all-cash $65 billion bid for Fox’s content companies.

Rupert Murdoch and shareholders will walk away from the majority of Fox’s media empire well compensated from a short-term bidding war between Disney and Comcast, which has raised the acquisition price substantially above Disney’s original offer in December.

Disney CEO Bob Iger’s current offer is being seen as “very aggressive” by Wall Street and designed to deter Comcast from responding with a better bid of its own. Comcast was already planning to load up on debt to finance the deal, and was unwilling to include shares of its stock as part of the transaction. Disney itself is putting a huge amount of money on the line to acquire Fox. After including Fox’s current debt load, Disney’s latest offer means the total transaction is expected to exceed $85 billion.

Disney’s decision to postpone an important meeting to discuss Comcast’s bid could be a signal Comcast is preparing a counteroffer.

Whatever company ultimately wins control of Fox will own and control the majority, but not all of Fox’s media assets.

21st Century Fox Assets to be Acquired by Disney (or Comcast if it returns with an even higher bid):

Fox Entertainment Group:

20th Century Fox
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Blue Sky Studios
Fox Star Studios
Fox Networks Group
Fox Sports Networks

FX Cable Networks
National Geographic Partners (Nat Geo suite of cable networks and National Geographic Films) (73%)
Star TV (Asian satellite TV service)
Hulu (United States) (Fox’s 30% stake, giving either buyer 60% ownership and control of the service)
Sky (39.14%) (United Kingdom satellite TV service and content producer)
Endemol Shine Group (50%) (Producer of reality TV shows including Big BrotherMasterChefThe Biggest Loser and Hunted.)

21st Century Fox Assets to Be Spun Off to “New Fox” — an independent company owned by current 21st Century Fox shareholders

Fox Broadcasting Company – The Fox Television Network
Fox Television Stations Group (28 local TV stations)
Fox Television Station Productions
Movies! (a digital subchannel network run as a joint venture with Weigel Broadcasting and seen on around 75 local stations around the country)
MyNetworkTV
Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network
Fox Sports:

Big Ten Network (51% owned in joint venture with Big Ten Conference)
Fox Deportes
Fox Sports 1
Fox Sports 2
Fox Soccer Plus
Fox College Sports
Fox Sports International

The 20th Century Fox studio lot (to be leased by Disney)

A battle is still raging for control of Sky, the United Kingdom’s biggest satellite TV provider. Fox originally sought to acquire the portion of Sky it did not already own, but was derailed by a sweeping 2011 phone hacking scandal after news emerged Murdoch-employed reporters illegally hacked into the private voicemail boxes of celebrities to help fuel new story ideas and substantiate personal scandals. When it was revealed reporters listened to the messages of a murdered schoolgirl, allowing her parents to mistakenly believe she was still alive, the scandal went viral and prompted both criminal and regulatory probes of Murdoch’s operations in the United Kingdom. It also led to the closure of the country’s largest tabloid newspaper, the Murdoch-owned News of the World. The scandal has been widely blamed for Murdoch’s inability to convince regulators to approve his bid for full ownership of Sky Television. Murdoch is now cutting his losses and selling the entire operation to either Disney or Comcast.

Telcos Pile Up Debt From Mergers & Acquisitions While Stalling Fiber Upgrades

Spending priorities: mergers & acquisitions, not upgrades.

Since 2012, two of the country’s largest phone companies spent enough money — $281.4 billion — to wire at least three-quarters of the  nation with fiber-to-the-home service and deliver vastly improved rural internet access to the rest of the country. Instead of doing that, AT&T and Verizon used the money to buy their competitors and content creators including AOL and Yahoo.

A 2017 Deloitte Consulting analysis estimates the United States will need between $130 and $150 billion in investment over the next 5–7 years to upgrade at least 75% of homes and businesses to fiber to the home service, with the remaining 25% serviced by technologies including 5G that are capable of delivering broadband speeds greater than the federal minimum standard of 25/3 Mbps.

AT&T could almost deliver the country a major broadband upgrade all by itself, having spent $138 billion on mergers and acquisitions in the past six years. Verizon could have easily handled the entire cost, but instead spent its $143.4 billion on business deals, including $130 billion to buy out former Verizon Wireless partner Vodafone. Among independent phone companies, things look equally bad. Frontier Communications is saddled with so much debt after acquiring former AT&T customers in Connecticut and Verizon customers in more than a dozen states, it has been forced to suspend its shareholder dividend and has been only able to make token investments in network upgrades for its mostly copper wire infrastructure in its original “legacy” service areas and a mixture of copper and fiber in acquired service areas. Both CenturyLink and Windstream have refocused many of their business activities on the commercial services marketplace, including the sale of hosting, business IT services, and cloud server networks.

More recently, both AT&T and Verizon have raced into content company acquisitions, buying up AOL, Yahoo, and Time Warner to offer their respective customers additional content. The phone companies are diversifying their business interests away from simply offering phone lines and internet access. At the same time, many of these acquisitions are depleting resources that could be spent on critical network upgrades.

The article in Light Reading claims the telecom industry’s traditional financial model of borrowing money to build networks and upgrade others is broken, because telecom companies now prefer to spend money acquiring other companies instead. Although AT&T has, in recent years, been more aggressive than Verizon in deploying fiber to home service, both companies have resisted committing large amounts of capital to a territory-wide fiber buildout, preferring to spend smaller sums to incrementally upgrade their networks in selected areas over the next decade. But the merger and acquisition teams at both companies are far less cautious, given the go ahead to pay handsomely for companies that often have little to do with providing telephone or internet service.

Light Reading reports AT&T’s debt climbed from $59 billion in 2010 to $126 billion at the end of 2017. Verizon’s debt increased from $45 billion to $114 billion. But those acquisitions have done little to attract new customers. Both companies’ operating cash flows have barely budged — $39 billion annually at AT&T (up from $35 billion) and Verizon’s actually declined from $33 billion in 2010 to $25 billion in 2017.

Mergers and Acquisitions (2011-2018)

AT&T

  • 2012: AT&T buys $1.93 billion worth of spectrum from Qualcomm.
  • 2013: AT&T buys Leap Wireless (Cricket) for $1.2 billion.
  • 2014: AT&T pays $49 billion for the DirectTV, issuing $17.5 billion in debt in April.
  • 2015: AT&T buys out assets from bankrupt Mexican wireless business of NII Holdings for around $1.875 billion.
  • 2018: AT&T pays $207 million to acquire FiberTower.
  • 2018: AT&T is cleared to merge with Time Warner in a deal valued at more than $84 billion.

Verizon

  • 2011: Verizon acquires Terremark for $1.4 billion.
  • 2014: Verizon buys out Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless, valued at $130 billion, with a mixture of stock and debt.
  • 2015: Verizon buys AOL for a deal valued around $4.4 billion.
  • 2017: Verizon acquires Yahoo Internet assets for $4.5 billion.
  • 2017: Verizon buys spectrum holder Straight Path Communications for $3.1 billion roughly double rival AT&T’s offer, to build up 5G spectrum and footprint.

The more debt (and debt payments) that pile up at the two companies, the less money will be available to spend on fiber upgrades. In fact, there is evidence these companies are hoping to further cut costs in their core landline network operations. Some regulators have noticed. Verizon was forced to make a deal with New York regulators requiring the company to spend millions replacing failing copper-based facilities and upgrade them to fiber and remove or replace tens of thousands of deteriorated utility poles. Verizon faced similar action in Pennsylvania.

AT&T has spent millions lobbying the federal government to permanently decommission rural America’s landline network and replace it with a wireless alternative, while also working to replace the current regulated telephone network with deregulated alternatives like internet and Voice over IP phone service.

Wall Street analysts have occasionally questioned or at least expressed surprise over some of the phone companies’ odd acquisitions:

  • Verizon acquired Terremark to beef up its cloud-based and server-hosting businesses. But shortly after acquiring the company, Verizon began replacing top management, sometimes repeatedly, and ultimately divested itself of its data center portfolio, including Terremark, just five years later.
  • AT&T bought DirecTV to help it reduce wholesale TV programming expenses for its U-verse TV subscribers. But DirecTV has lost more than one million satellite TV customers since AT&T acquired it in 2014, despite new marketing efforts to convince would-be U-verse TV customers to choose DirecTV instead.
  • Verizon saw value in web brands that were major players more than 18 years ago but are mostly afterthoughts today. The company spent almost $9 billion to acquire Yahoo and AOL, and their low quality content portfolios, which rely heavily on clickbait headlines, advertiser-sponsored content, and articles designed to maximize mouse clicks to boost the number of ads you see.

“The telcos are trying to diversify into content when they should instead be focused on their core business — building networks and charging for value-added technology,” said Scott Raynovich, founder and principal analyst at Futuriom. “It’s clear they see content as part of the value-add but customers so far don’t seem to be reacting that way. It’s clear they are allergic to paying higher prices for bundled content.”

AT&T and Verizon’s customers are not clamoring for more content deals. When surveyed, most want better internet service at more affordable prices.

Sprint Offering $15/Mo Unlimited Call/Text/Data Plan to New Customers… Until Friday

Sprint debuted its new $15/month Unlimited Kickstart plan on June 7th, and will stop taking new orders for it tomorrow evening, making it one of Sprint’s shortest-lived plans ever.

The plan, intended to steal customers from competitors, offers those bringing a qualified device (or buying one) the opportunity of paying just $15 a month for unlimited talk, texting, and data, with some caveats:

  • Video streams are throttled to support up to 480p, music streams are limited to 500 kbps, and gaming streams don’t exceed 2 Mbps.
  • Customers on this plan are subject to speed throttles, known at Sprint as “data deprioritization” when towers are congested, regardless of usage.
  • Customers must enroll and maintain autopay.
  • Requires customers to sign up for a new line, port an existing number, and either bring your own device or buy one from Sprint.

Unlimited Kickstart gives Sprint a chance to report a big boost in new customer signups during its next quarterly report to Wall Street. But the company claims the plan also allows customers of other carriers the opportunity of sampling Sprint’s upgraded network, or return to Sprint as an ex-customer to see how the network has improved. There are no contracts, and the offer also extends to other family members — each line up to four will cost just $15/month.

Sprint will attempt to upsell customers to its Unlimited Freedom plan, which offers more features at a higher price.

“At Sprint, we’ve worked incredibly hard to improve our network,” the company claimed in a press release. “In fact, Sprint’s national average download speed increased 34.5 percent year-over-year, more than any other national carrier. Plus, we’ve increased our investment to make our coverage, reliability and speed even better as Sprint prepares to launch the first mobile 5G network in the U.S. in the first half of 2019.”

The company claims interest in the offer is extremely heavy, but the press release announcing it also mentioned an expiration date for enrollees of Friday night (June 15) at 11:59pm EDT, which means time is running out. Customers have to sign up for the offer online, which isn’t particularly intuitive. A Live Chat button is located on the web page which may offer some help to those trying to enroll. If you own a qualified phone already, or acquire a new one, you will need to acquire a Sprint SIM card to activate the plan no later than June 22, 2018.

Comcast Bids $65 Billion in Cash to Acquire Fox Media Assets

(Reuters) – Comcast Corp offered $65 billion on Wednesday for 21st Century Fox’s media assets, emboldened by AT&T prevailing over the Trump administration’s attempt to block a merger with Time Warner, Inc..

The all-cash offer for Fox’s movie and TV studios and other assets including the X-Men franchise, opens a war with Walt Disney, which has bid $52 billion in stock. Comcast described the bid as 19 percent higher than Disney’s bid today. The transaction does not include the FOX television network, network owned-and-operated local television stations, or its cable news channels Fox News and Fox Business.

Comcast is expected to lead a wave of traditional media companies trying to combine distribution and production to compete with Netflix Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google. The younger firms produce content, sell it online directly to consumers and often offer lucrative targeted advertising.

AT&T won a court victory over skeptical U.S. antitrust regulators on Tuesday when a federal judge allowed it to buy Time Warner for $85 billion, which was widely taken as a green light for Comcast to submit its expected bid.

Comcast may face more difficulty than AT&T and other would-be acquirers, though, since Comcast already has its own TV and movie studios in the NBC Universal division, a content overlap AT&T-Time Warner lacked.

Shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney were barely changed in after-hours trade.

Comcast in a statement outlined an offer that was similar to Disney’s, including a commitment to the same divestitures. It said that it would agree to litigate any action taken by the Justice Department to block the deal.

In a letter to the Fox board, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said, “We are also highly confident that our proposed transaction will obtain all necessary regulatory approvals in a timely manner and that our transaction is as or more likely to receive regulatory approval than the Disney transaction.”

Justice Department lawyers who tried to stop AT&T’s $85 billion deal expect consumers will lose out as bigger companies raise prices, and some lawyers saw that as a concern in a Comcast-Fox deal which would put two movie studios and two major television brands under one roof.

“One cannot ignore the fact that there’s less independent content to go around,” after the AT&T deal, said Henry Su, an antitrust expert with Constantine Cannon LLP.

Still, the AT&T court fight gave Comcast valuable information about how to structure a Fox deal, said David Scharf, a litigation expert with Morrison Cohen.

“Any deal that’s coming down the pike that’s not baked yet knows the government’s playbook. They know what the government is concerned about,” he said. “They can learn how to structure a deal to make it more palatable.”

Disney itself has “surgically” structured a transaction that “might be doable,” avoiding Fox Broadcasting and big Fox sports channels, U.S. antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said last week.

Comcast may have a tough time winning over Fox’s largest shareholder, Rupert Murdoch’s family. They own a 17-percent stake and would face a multi-billion dollar capital gains tax bill if he accepted an all-cash offer from Comcast, tax experts have told Reuters.

Craig Moffett, an analyst with MoffettNathanson, said in a research note that Disney could prevail for other reasons.

“Disney has the superior balance sheet, cost of debt, equity and rationale to emerge victorious over Comcast in a bidding war,” Moffett said.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Additional reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker.

CNBC reports Comcast has officially submitted its $65 billion all-cash offer to acquire assets of 21st Century Fox. Disney is also a contender and may respond by sweetening its own offer. (2:29)

AT&T/Time Warner: The Big Bundle is Back! Introducing the $522/Mo Telecom Bill

Phillip Dampier June 13, 2018 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Video 3 Comments

Your bundle is bigger than ever.

A-la-carte TV is still dead. Long live the super-sized bundle!

If AT&T and Time Warner wanted to deliver a message to the cable industry as a result of their now-approved blockbuster merger deal, it is one that promises hundreds, if not thousands of more TV channels, movies and shows headed your way in the coming days, bundled into super-sized pricier packages of television, telephone, and internet service.

Despite the fact consumers claim they want to pick and pay only for the entertainment options they specifically want, in reality people are paying for more bundled packages and services — usually from multiple online streaming services — than ever before, with no possibility they will ever watch everything these services have to offer.

AT&T and Time Warner are well aware customers are now subscribing to cable television -and- streaming video services like Hulu and Netflix. But many customers are also buying streaming live cable TV alternatives, despite the fact they already subscribe to a cable television package. Given the option of selling you an inexpensive package of a dozen cable channels you claim to want or selling you much larger and more expensive bundles of services many are actually buying, AT&T will follow the money every time.

What will be different as a result of this merger is where you buy that programming. Before, you may have purchased AT&T Fiber internet access, AT&T wireless mobile phone service, a HBO GO subscription through DirecTV Now, a cable TV alternative, and Netflix. Now, with the exception of Netflix, all of that money will go directly to AT&T. The company will also be able to enhance their bottom line by monetizing content viewed over mobile devices. After taking control of Time Warner’s vast entertainment offerings, which range from HBO to Turner Broadcasting networks like CNN and TNT, AT&T will generously bestow liberal (or possibly free) access to this content for its broadband and wireless customers, while those served by other providers will have to pay up to watch. AT&T will ultimately set the terms of its licensing agreements. AT&T Wireless customers with unlimited data plans already have a sample of this with a free year of DirecTV Now, which customers of other wireless companies have to pay to watch.

AT&T plans to offer the best deals to customers who bundle everything through AT&T. The “quad play” bundle of TV, internet, home phone, and wireless phone will offer customers discounts on each element of the package, but some may experience sticker shock even with the discounts.

The Wall Street Journal noted a premium AT&T customer could pay more than $500 a month for AT&T’s best package — that’s more than $6,000 a year. Most bundled AT&T customers will pay about half that — around $246 a month for a package of 100 Mbps internet, a home phone line, wireless phone and a limited TV package bundling Time Warner content, including HBO. The entry level ‘poverty’ package will still cost around $115 a month.

By controlling each element of the package, AT&T can discourage a-la-carte package pickers by substantially raising the price of standalone services, to encourage bundling. That explains why many customers take a promotional TV offer priced just $10-20 more than the $70 broadband-only package some customers start with. If broadband-only service costs $40 a month and the TV package also costs $40 a month, those leaning towards cord-cutting would find it much easier to pass on cable television.

With Comcast on the verge of picking up much of 21st Century Fox’s content library and studio, Comcast will be able to defend its own turf creating similar giant bundles of content to keep its customers happy. Wall Street is already putting pressure on Verizon to respond with an acquisition of its own to protect its base of FiOS and Verizon Wireless customers.

Companies likely left out in the cold of the next wave of media and entertainment consolidation include online content companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, which will be stuck licensing someone else’s content or bankrolling many more original productions. Charter Communications, which has a small deal with AMC for content, is also stranded, as are smaller cable companies like Cox, Altice, and Mediacom. Independent phone companies like CenturyLink, Windstream, Consolidated, and Frontier are also in a bad position if Wall Street determines telecom companies without content divisions are in serious trouble.

Netflix stands alone as the behemoth content company, and is not likely to be impacted by the current wave of consolidation. Hulu will most likely end up in the hands of a telephone or cable company, most likely Comcast, if it successfully acquires Fox’s ownership share of Hulu.

For customers, your future choice of provider is about to get more complicated. In addition to pondering speed tiers and wireless coverage maps, you will also have to decide what content packages are the most valuable. Your choices will range from basic company-owned networks to third-party services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as full cable TV lineups ranging from DirecTV Now to XFINITY TV. Then get ready for the bill, which will likely include charges for most, if not all, of these services.

The Wall Street Journal explains the current wave of media consolidation. (2:44)

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