By Thomas Gryta and Keach Hagey
AT&T Inc. has reached an agreement to buy Time Warner Inc. for between $105 and $110 a share, with a deal likely to be announced as soon as Saturday evening, according to people familiar with the plans.
The boards of the two companies are meeting on Saturday to approve the transaction, the people said. The deal is half cash and half stock, according to one of the people.
The acquisition is valued at more than $80 billion and pushes the carrier deeper into the traditional entertainment business at a time of stalled wireless growth. For Time Warner, the deal represents a victory for Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes, 64, who took some heat from investors for rebuffing a takeover bid two years ago from 21st Century Fox at $85 a share.
The pairing brings together AT&T's millions of wireless and pay-television subscribers with Time Warner's deep media lineup including networks such as CNN, TNT, the prized HBO channel and Warner Bros. film and TV studio.
A merger of the companies would be the most ambitious marriage of content and distribution in the media and telecom industries since Comcast Corp.'s purchase of NBCUniversal and would create a behemoth to rival that cable giant. A rigorous regulatory review is expected and the acquisition of Time Warner likely wouldn't close until late 2017, people close to the process said.
Regulators have indicated misgivings about the prior Comcast-NBCU deal -- in particular, whether obligations placed on Comcast were tough enough and enforceable -- so it is unclear if they will be willing to bless another such merger. At the very least, former regulatory officials say there could be significant conditions placed on the combination.
The transaction would be far and away the biggest media deal of recent years. Time Warner had a market capitalization of $68 billion before The Wall Street Journal reported on the advanced talks Friday, while AT&T's was $233 billion.
On Friday, Time Warner shares closed at $89.48, up 8%.
AT&T has been shifting its sights to media and video in recent years, diving deeper into television after its nearly $50 billion deal to acquire satellite television provider DirecTV last year. That made AT&T, which traces its roots to the old 'Ma Bell, the country's biggest pay television provider as well as its second-largest wireless operator.
Time Warner "is the last scaled content play that's acquirable," said Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, noting that the rest of the major media companies are either so valuable they would be difficult to acquire, like Walt Disney Co., or family controlled, like 21st Century Fox, CBS and Viacom. "HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. are really good assets for a future of nonlinear consumption."
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