AT&T Inc is set to announce as early as Saturday a $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner Inc , sources familiar with the matter said, paving the way for the biggest merger in the world this year, giving the telecom company control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets.
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The deal, which has been agreed on most terms, would be one of the largest in recent years in the sector as telecommunications companies look to combine content and distribution to capture customers replacing traditional pay-TV packages with more streamlined offerings and online delivery.
AT&T will pay $110 per Time Warner share in cash and stock, worth about $85 billion overall, sources told Reuters. It will need to line up financing to pay for the deal, since it only has $7.2 billion in cash on hand. This could put pressure on its credit rating as it already has $120 billion in net debt as of June 30, according to Moody's.
The boards of the two companies are meeting on Saturday to approve the deal, one source told Reuters.
AT&T, whose main wireless phone and broadband service business is showing signs of slowing growth, has already made moves to turn itself into a media powerhouse, buying satellite TV provider DirecTV last year for $48.5 billion.
It also in 2014 entered a joint venture, Otter Media, with the Chernin Group to invest in media businesses, and has rolled out video streaming services.
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Time Warner is a major force in movies, TV and video games. Its assets include the HBO, CNN, TBS and TNT networks as well as the Warner Bros film studio, producer of the ���Batman��� and ���Harry Potter��� film franchises. The company also owns a 10 percent stake in video streaming site Hulu.
Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes rejected an $80 billion offer from Twenty-First Century Fox Inc in 2014, but sources said on Friday that the former suitor had no plans to renew its bid.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Apple Inc approached Time Warner a few months ago about a possible merger.
Owning more content gives cable and telecom companies bargaining leverage with other content companies as customers demand smaller, hand-picked cable offerings or switch to watching online. And new mobile technology including next-generation 5G networks could make a content tie-up especially attractive for wireless providers.
"We think 5G mobile is coming, we think 5G mobile is an epic game-changer," Rich Tullo, director of research at Albert Fried & Company, said in a research note, adding that mobile providers would be in position to disrupt traditional pay-TV services.
A previous Time Warner blockbuster deal, its 2000 merger with AOL, is now considered one of the most ill-advised corporate marriages on record.
Dallas-based AT&T and New York-based Time Warner did not immediately return calls for comment.
(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Rigby)