Comcast buys Warner or Warner buys Paramount? The next big media deal is inching closer.
The talk at Cannes Lions points to big dealmaking on the near horizon.
Ketan Mehta, the ace Allen & Co. media banker is about to get busy again.
With the investment bank’s July 4 mogul camp kicking off in a matter of weeks, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts are likely to continue talks about how to remap the big media landscape once again.
Comcast is expecting at least $9 billion from Disney in return for its 33 percent stake in Hulu. That could happen as soon as January and spark a renewed effort at consolidating the media and streaming space.
According to three sources familiar with conversations, Roberts wants to acquire Warner Bros. Discovery which would create the dominant player in cable TV advertising and of course, bring together Peacock and Max in streaming.
To be sure, these rumors made the rounds last year, and the chatter on the Croisette at the Cannes Lions conference in France, could reflect the hopes of chatty bankers, but multiple people familiar with the companies say provisional talks are happening and that banks are in on those conversations.
Both companies deny that M&A talks are live.
Zaslav has long suggested bundling the streaming services to create a better consumer offer and to shrink the losses. At a May investor conference Zaslav said: “If we don’t do it to ourselves, I think it’ll be done to us.”
It’s been just 14 months since Discovery made an audacious play to acquire control of WarnerMedia from AT&T in a deal worth $43 billion. Since then, tech platforms such YouTube, Amazon and Apple have acquired live sports rights and are siphoning away audiences while newcomers Netflix and TikTok are elbowing for ad dollars.
Saying yes to Brian might not be Zaslav’s only play. One person said that the Warner CEO could also be the aggressor and is eyeing Shari Redstone’s Paramount Global. That deals seems more likely to fly with regulators since Warner doesn’t own a broadcast network and could put CBS sports’ NFL and NCAA rights under the Warner Sports umbrella. Paramount Global’s market cap is just $10.7 billion. But does Warner want more debt payments to figure out?
A senior executive inside Warner denied any notion of acquiring Paramount.
Separately, the potential Comcast/Warner combination is driving conversation at Cannes Lions about the management shuffles it could bring. Roberts has a firm succession plan in place. Three sources say Comcast president Michael Cavanagh is Robert’s pick to succeed him and continue the Roberts family legacy in cable. (Not that Roberts is planning to go anywhere. He is still only 63 years young.)
One source close to conversations said the timeline for the potential transaction involving Warner - in either direction - is relatively short. Then again, the FTC filed to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision last week - not a great climate for yet more new mega-media merger news.
All the merger talk leaves plenty of questions about what happens to Warner Bros. Discovery’s CNN. An internal source says that editorial staff is now being asked to hot desk on the 17th floor as their space shrinks. One staffer pointed out that shifting seats is no easy task if you are Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and your desk is full of award statues. But it points to signs that the shrinking of CNN isn’t over. It’s been widely suggested that CNN will soon be on the block even while Warner Bros. Discovery is denying it, for now.