Telecom giant AT&T remains optimistic about the regulatory review process for the mega-merger between its entertainment arm WarnerMedia and Discovery, CEO John Stankey told Citi’s AppsEconomy Conference on Wednesday.
Stankey spoke during a virtual conference session after AT&T had disclosed that it had ended 2021 with 73.8 million subscribers for its HBO Max streaming service and HBO, exceeding its own target range. The AT&T boss lauded his team for getting HBO Max lauded on year-end lists of ascending streamers, adding that “’22 is going to be even a better year for that.”
He then touted the future of streaming service HBO Max after the big combination. Once Discovery closes the deal and CEO David Zaslav can “start to bring in the strength of what Discovery does so well into that portfolio, it is going to be unstoppable,” he argued.
Asked about the progress of regulatory reviews and whether the deal could close earlier than the mid-year 2022 target, Stankey said that was “entirely possible; it could also possibly slip.” But he said that right now “exactly what we expected to occur is occurring.”
After recent EU deal approval, “we feel comfortable” about other approvals, Stankey said. The U.S. review process, particularly that of the Department of Justice, has been “following kind of the script and the expectations,” he added. “I feel very comfortable with how that is going.” And Stankey added: “I see nothing going on … that causes me any concern.”
He called the merger a “tremendously valuable transaction.”
In December, Stankey defended the pending deal after congressional Democrats raised concerns over possible anti-competition market violations in letters. “What’s been articulated in those letters is really unfounded,” he said. “Having been through a number of these [transactions] in my career, getting letters from members of Congress is not unusual. … When you have a lot of members of Congress, there’s always going to be those that have a different lens they want to put on something.”
The merger of WarnerMedia with Discovery, unveiled in May and set to close mid-year, will create a new global media powerhouse, with the combined firm to be led by Discovery CEO David Zaslav who will move to Los Angeles. “I’m going to be very hands-on,” Zaslav said in November. “The better our content is, the better chance we have of being the leading media company in the world.”