Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt says news that Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) recently rejected a nearly $80 billion buyout bid from 21st Century FOX (NASDAQ:FOXA) means “the FCC really does need a net neutrality rule, because all of this is ultimately a battle for who dominates distribution over broadband.”
Hundt told FOX Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday that the attempted bid makes perfect sense given the realities of new media.
“What you’re seeing is that the content companies are eyeballing the Comcast proposed merger, and the AT&T (NYSE:T) proposed merger, and they are saying if they don’t beef up they won’t be able to deal with the monster Internet access providers and cable distributors,” said Hundt. “So this is a reaction to the previous deals, and the FCC and the Department of Justice have got their hands full.”
WSJ Editor in Chief Gerard Baker agrees.
“What we’re seeing with these proposed mergers – Time Warner Cable-Comcast, and the AT&T-DirecTV -- these are creating enormously powerful distribution companies,” said Baker. “So the media companies, the content companies are … understandably concerned. This puts enormous power in the hands of those cable companies, and so in a way [of] fighting back the content companies – 21st Century Fox and others -- have got to find a way to make sure they have the strength to deal with that.”
Baker said he thinks a deal of this size could pass, given his outlook for the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.
“It looks like despite a lot of … opposition, the huge Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal is going to sail through Washington… it would be very tough then for the regulators to turn around and say, ‘Well, those two can merge…but you two can’t,’” said Baker.
That’s all thanks to the Internet changing the playing field for media, he says.
“20 years ago this deal probably would have been very hard to do, because you had a very limited supply of content creators and this would have been a huge merger between two of the biggest. Now with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), with Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) getting into content business, with Yahoo getting into content business, with a guy with a camera and an editing kick can make a movie and get it distributed -- I don’t see that there are competitive concerns here,” said Baker.
Hundt said he thinks the chances of another suitor stepping in with a winning bid for Time Warner are slim—but he doesn’t think it’s a dead deal.
“The range of possible suitors is fairly small,” said Hundt. “Rupert [Murdoch] tends to get what he goes after.”
Rupert Murdoch is the CEO of 21st Century Fox, which is the parent of the FOX Business Network.