Although Time Warner rejected 21st Century Fox‘s $80 billion cash and stock bid for the company, both investors and industry experts expect big mergers to come in the content side of the media business.
Larry Haverty, associate portfolio manager of Gabelli Multimedia Trust, told CNBC the proposed Time Warner/Fox deal is “basically the first salvo in a wave of media consolidation.” Also, last week Discovery CEO David Zaslav predicted a wave of content consolidation in reaction to cable and satellite businesses like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, or DirecTV and AT&T.
The proposed deal—the rejection of which was reported Wednesday—had investors thinking about other possible cable acquisition targets as well, and shares of Discovery and Scripps Networks Interactive jumped higher on the news.
So, what other companies are now in play?
For pure-play cable content companies, Discovery, Scripps (which owns Food Network and HGTV) and AMC Networks are mentioned as possible targets, offering the dual revenue streams of advertising and retransmission fees, which have been on the rise.
Of the three companies, Discovery is likely the most appealing target because it has international reach, and overseas properties are responsible for a big and growing piece of its revenue.
Viacom, which also owns valuable cable channels including MTV and Comedy Central—also finished Wednesday higher, up about 3.5 percent. But it’s a less likely acquisition target because it’s controlled by Sumner Redstone.
Private Spanish-language media giant Univision has also been shopping itself around. The network has met with Time Warner and Viacom, among others. Yet, CBS CEO Les Moonves says he’s not interested, and the fact that Disney launched the Fusion network, makes it unlikely to be interested.
Who are other potential buyers for Time Warner, and others? Apple and Google are mentioned as possible buyers. Both have deep pockets, and have repeatedly indicated that they’re interested in licensing content rights and owning distribution services. Time will tell if they’re interested in owning content as well.
What about Disney? CEO Bob Iger has repeatedly shown his interest in buying valuable brands—like Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar characters—which the company can exploit across all its platforms. Based on his vision and track record, a piece of Warner Brothers (like CNN) might make sense, but the whole company likely doesn’t. Comcast and AT&T have their hands full getting approval of their respective megamergers and won’t be in the market for anything new until those pending deals are wrapped up.
If a deal between Fox and Time Warner were to come through, flagship cable news channel CNN would likely have to go on the market. Because Fox also owns Fox News, Time Warner’s rival cable news network would have to be divested because of anti-trust concerns.
Disney as well as CBS have both been interested in the past and would certainly kick the tires. In prior conversations CBS’ interest was muted because the two companies were talking about some sort of joint venture. The fact that this would be a full-out sale—rather than a partnership—could make it more appealing.