NEW YORK – AT&T’s chairman and chief executive, Randall Stephenson, said Thursday his firm is prepared for a court fight with U.S. authorities over its merger plan with media-entertainment giant Time Warner, while ruling out a sale of CNN or other content providers.
Stephenson, speaking at the New York Times Dealbook conference, expressed frustration that approval for the $85.4 billion deal had dragged on for more than a year and said it is time to reach a negotiated settlement or go to litigation.
“We have been working on this for a year, we are prepared to litigate now,” he said.
“If we’re going to go to litigation, sooner is better.”
Stephenson said he would prefer a negotiated settlement with the Department of Justice but that any deal would not involve the divesting of the CNN news channel or the HBO premium video channel.
That is because AT&T — which is one of the largest telecom and pay TV operators — wants to boost its ability to marry content and advertising and better compete with the likes of Netflix, Google and Facebook.
“That’s where the synergies come from,” Stephenson said in response to a question on whether he would sell CNN or other Time Warner content assets.
“To suggest selling some of the key franchises that are some of the best for the business plan makes no sense.”
When asked whether AT&T would be willing to sell satellite TV service DirecTV to get the deal done, Stephenson deferred, saying it was part of “confidential” talks with U.S. regulators.
The battle over the mega-deal spilled into the public this week amid reports that U.S. officials had sought the sale of CNN — a frequent target of President Donald Trump — or DirecTV.
Stephenson said it was “patently false” to suggest he had offered to sell CNN to win approval.
Some analysts viewed the move as political payback, since Trump has repeatedly criticized CNN for its coverage of him, calling it “fake news.”
Stephenson said he had “no reason to believe” Trump was behind any of the demands.
AT&T announced plans last year to purchase Time Warner to create a juggernaut with more than 142 million mobile subscribers and a major player in pay TV broadcasting via DirecTV.
Time Warner also includes a media group with popular content that includes sports, movies and television series.