Will AT&T sell off CNN if it buys Time Warner?

It’s all getting so confusing now. AT&T, parent company of DIRECTV, is trying to buy Time Warner. Time Warner is currently the parent company of CNN, Time Magazine, HBO, Warner Bros. Studios, Superman (and that whole crowd) and a bunch of other media properties. They used to be the parent of Time Warner Cable but aren’t anymore, and at one point AOL was part of their portfolio.

AT&T feels confident that they will be able to complete the purchase pending FCC review, since Comcast was able to successfully buy NBC Universal in the past. This deal is very similar to that one in many ways, and the current administration generally looks favorably upon large mergers in a way the previous one did not.

Still, just to be safe, AT&T looks like it might be ditching CNN as part of the deal. Deadline suggests that this would be a good time to do so, as CNN has blossomed in the last year as part of an overall increase in interest in politics. Perhaps more importantly however, CNN and other news networks have come under attack from the current administration (I’m sure you all know about that, I’m not going to go into it) and divesting CNN might please some higher-ups while also letting CNN blossom and become a more independent and responsible agency.

CBS has been named as a potential buyer but I think that is just speculation. Honestly an organization like CNN should be neutral and professional regardless of who owns them, but it’s clear that the difficulties of keeping a 24-hour news network profitable have caused all of them to dip into less professional waters from time to time. A new owner could aggressively fund the network, giving it freedom to act without concern for profits, or could put pressure on the network to deliver higher numbers in a declining market, leading to more exploitation and showmanship. It’s hard to know which direction a new owner would go.

With or without CNN, AT&T expects to close the Time Warner deal by year end, and has put John Stankey in charge of the unit which will absorb the current Time Warner operations. Mr. Stankey was AT&T’s shepherd for the DIRECTV deal and his excellent stewardship has so far kept DIRECTV healthy and growing in a very mature and sometimes depressing market. I’m sure he will do just as well as the leader of the Time Warner transition team.