AT&T is nearing a deal to combine its content unit WarnerMedia with rival Discovery to create a media giant with an enterprise value of US$150bn (NZ$207bn), just a few years after acquiring the owner of CNN, HBO and Warner Bros, said people briefed about the matter.
The board of directors of AT&T were meeting on Sunday to approve the deal, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The agreed deal is expected to be announced in the coming days, those people said.
The combination would merge one of Hollywood's most valuable catalogues — spanning the Warner Bros film and television studios, the HBO network and a portfolio of cable channels including CNN — with Discovery, which has had success with a new streaming service aimed at unscripted cooking and home renovation shows.
After years of watching Netflix dominate the streaming landscape, the world's largest media and tech companies have sought to fight back with their own services. In the past year and a half, Disney, Apple, WarnerMedia, Comcast, Discovery and others have launched streaming platforms as they battle for a piece of the future of entertainment.
The structure of the deal remains unclear but AT&T, which has a market value of about $230bn, is expected to control most of the combined entity. Discovery has a market value of $24bn.
AT&T's decision to merge its content division with Discovery comes five years after it agreed to take over Time Warner for $85.4bn as the telecom company looked to transform itself into the world's largest vertically integrated content and distribution company.
In 2019, AT&T chief executive John Stankey and Discovery chief David Zaslav discussed combining their programming into a single streaming service for about $8 a month (excluding HBO). But when Disney revealed it would offer up its massive trove of Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and Disney classics for only $7 a month for Disney Plus, they scrapped the plan. Instead, Stankey combined HBO with the rest of WarnerMedia's programming to create one flagship streaming service, named HBO Max, which debuted in the US last year for $15 a month.
Discovery, the company behind HGTV, the Oprah Winfrey network and broadcaster Eurosport, in January launched a $5 a month streaming service, which Zaslav told the FT was "the most important new business" since he joined the company more than a decade ago.
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HBO Max and Discovery Plus have made some traction in the streaming race. Discovery in April said it had reached 15m subscribers across its streaming business, while HBO Max signed up nearly 3m subscribers in the first quarter, reaching 9.7m retail subscribers by the end of March.
However, both companies are vying against much larger rivals: Netflix has 208m subscribers globally, while Disney Plus has lured 104m subscribers in only a year and half since launching.
WarnerMedia plans to launch HBO Max in Latin America and parts of Europe later this year.
Bloomberg first reported news of the talks between AT&T and Discovery. AT&T and Discovery declined to comment.
- Financial Times