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Unease over AT&T/Time Warner deal

Harry Potter, Anthony Bourdain, Superman, Bill Simmons and Charles Barkley are all going to work for a phone company.

AT&T’s planned $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, the New York-based company that owns HBO, CNN, TNT and Warner Bros. film studio, is a huge domino falling in the content business. The deal, which comes with the requisite promises of innovation and cost-savings, will make competitors in the Internet and media businesses uneasy.

The move could also set off a new wave of telecommunications companies and Internet giants, such as Google and Apple, buying or making deals with popular content programmers, further blurring the boundaries among the industries. In fact, Apple had been rumoured for months to be a potential acquirer of Time Warner. And Google’s interest in buying premium entertainment content, such as the right to stream NFL games, has been widely reported.

Other cable network operators that also could be potential takeover targets, to name a few, include: AMC Networks, best-known for its top-rated TV show The Walking Dead, but which also owns BBC America and SundanceTV; and Discovery Communications, which owns Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Animal Planet.

The acquisition, which marries partners in distribution and content, will trigger multiple layers of complexity for customers, industry regulators, investors and consumer watchdogs as they sort out revenue possibilities and conflicts of interest. But competitors of Time Warner or AT&T can no longer to afford to stand by idly.

Time Warner’s Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes intimated as much, saying the deal was partly to get ahead of competitors. “You’re going to see all kinds of distributors following,” he said in a press conference call with reporters Saturday night. “And you’re going to see a kind of revolution in the TV world.”

(USA TODAY)

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