In AT&T’s fight to purchase Time Warner, the company told a federal judge that it will forge deals that will keep CNN and TBS on other pay TV providers. The government is suing to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, saying it would be harmful to competition. Some observers say the feds’ opposition is related to President Trump’s neverending feud with CNN.

However, the Justice Department says one of its concerns was that AT&T, which owns DirecTV, could withhold Time Warner’s networks from other providers. Time Warner owns the Turner networks as well as HBO and Cinemax. Justice says AT&T could use them as leverage to get higher fees from the other major companies, or threaten them with blackouts.

But AT&T says it would ensure that there would be no fee disputes or blackouts by submitting them to “baseball-style arbitration” for seven years after the deal closes. For those familiar with arbitration, the two disputing parties would submit their fees and an independent arbiter would choose one.

In addition, AT&T promised not to pull programming while in dispute. As Recode reports, refusing to black out networks is a big deal:

Relinquishing the ability to black out channels is a large concession. Normally, distribution contracts include what are known as “most favored nation” clauses that ensure that each distributor is paying competitive rates with a similarly sized pay TV service. The blackout is a last-ditch negotiating ploy that a programmer can use to seal terms.

Whether it will work with the judge remains to be seen. AT&T hopes to seal with the deal with Time Warner, but has to clear this legal hurdle. If the judge approves the merger, then AT&T and Time Warner would have control of plenty of sports programming, including boxing, eSports, MLB, NBA, NCAA Tournament, NFL (Sunday Ticket), and the UEFA Champions League (next season).

Any fee disputes will be watched closely if the deal ends up being approved.


About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

  • Dale Moog

    At&T would be the largest sports media company above FOX, Comcast and Disney they would own AT&T sports networks, audience network plus the Turner networks they would have contracts with every major sport except NASCAR though the Turner deals with NBA and NBATV the NCAA tourney and MLB playoffs plus UEFA and the local rights deals they have: NHL (Golden Knight, Penguins), NBA (Jazz, Rockets), MLB (Pirates, Astros, Rockies, Mariners), MLS (Sounders, Timbers, Dynamo, Real Salt Lake)

  • Carter_Burger67

    There is no freaking way AT&T should be allowed to purchase Time Warner for this very reason. Or they should be forced to spin the Turner assets off.

  • PAI

    So my FIOS might not have CNN and TBS? If I can save money for that, sign me up.

    • Carter_Burger67

      Ah, silly person. Your monthly costs are gonna go UP for the privilege of crappy service.

  • PAI

    Also a novel idea, why don’t cable companies and programmers go to a permanent baseball style arbitration. Except they need the arbitrator to pick an amount between the high and low, not just an either or or one of them.

  • Toby Moore

    Everyone is up in arms about this merger but the NBC Universal/Comcast deal was OK?

    • Carter_Burger67


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