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AT&T/Time Warner merger: Is this going to get done?

If communications giant AT&T has its way, it will soon merge with Time Warner and own outright its Turner Broadcasting unit.

That linkage, states a recent Bloomberg article discussing a potential AT&T/Time Warner business combination, would "reshape the media landscape" by uniting the country's biggest satellite television provider with the company that owns major cable networks like CNN, HBO and TBS.

AT&T states that it has no intention of exercising the vast programming rights it would command following a merger in any way that would unlawfully stifle competition or undermine consumer choice. In fact, the company asserts that it would be inclusive about enabling other pay-TV providers to access programming on the channels it owns.

Government regulators are less than comforted by that assertion.

In fact, Bloomberg notes that U.S. Department of Justice antitrust officials have informed AT&T that they "don't intend to allow the deal to go forward in its original form."

The chiefly cited concern is that AT&T would simply command too much power following a merger that gave it total control over Time Warner and its vast broadcasting stable of network channels.

Reportedly, DOJ principals have told AT&T executives that they will seek to block the proposed merger in federal court in the event that it continues to be pushed in its present form.

According to informed sources, government officials are urging AT&T to reconsider its strategy. They say that a merger leaving the company in total control over all of Turner's broadcast channels is simply unacceptable.

One option that has reportedly been discussed is a sale of Turner by AT&T and subsequently inked joint venture with a third-party owner.

Such an arrangement would dampen regulators' antitrust concerns and engender greater confidence regarding the ability of other media companies to both access and sell advertising on channels that AT&T might otherwise monopolize.

The story line in this high-profile media story continues to evolve. The next headline would seem to be largely determined by how AT&T's top-level decision makers respond to the government's push for an outcome marked by something less than total control over Turner.

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