What's Big Tech's move now?
In the landmark merger between AT&T (T) and Time Warner (TWX) , the specter of tech loomed large, with trial lawyers for AT&T arguing that the deal was necessary in order to compete with firms such as Facebook (FB) , Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) , Netflix Inc. (NFLX) and Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) that combine distribution with content.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon agreed -- and for big tech firms, the decision could pressure companies to ratchet up spending on content deals.
The $85.4 billion merger is expected to trigger waves of M&A across media and telecoms, beginning with an all-cash bid by Comcast to take over 21st Century Fox, competing with a standing $52 billion bid by Disney. That's anticipated as early as Wednesday, but is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
"The ruling will likely result in a tsunami of consolidation in the industry that could make more odd bedfellows of TV channels, movie studios and the companies that distribute their content," wrote Adam Putz of Pitchbook.
In Silicon Valley, cash-rich tech companies like Apple Inc. (AAPL) may be more eager to close content deals -- and soon.
"What this really does is create a catalyst for significant M&A in the tech and media sector for the next 12-18 months," said GBH analyst Daniel Ives.
The Amazons, Facebooks and Apples of the world have staked out media turf in recent years, pouring billions into original content and streaming rights: Facebook inked exclusive deals with Major League Baseball, and is shelling out big bucks for original news from ABC News, CNN, Fox News, Univision and others. Amazon also recently signed a deal to broadcast 20 Premier League games in the U.K. over the next three years.
Overall this year, Apple is expected to spend $1 billion on original programming, Amazon will spend $5 billion and Netflix $8 billion. Meanwhile, Google's Youtube -- the largest video platform by views and a subsidiary of Google -- has been honing its own paid offerings, sinking hundreds of millions into programming.
With new, muscular competitors in the mix, tech's content tinkering could quickly turn into an all-out war.
"It's an arms race in content, and we expect that to continue to accelerate," Ives added.
After-hours trading was fairly muted among the FAANG stocks following the ruling on Tuesday and into early trading on Wednesday, save for Netflix, which was rising on an analyst upgrade. So the jury's still out on how the decision will impact each company individually.
But in an M&A-happy environment, those fantasy mergers (Apple and Netflix, anyone?) don't seem so far-fetched anymore. And it'll force Big Tech to think further outside the box.
"I do think that this getting green-lit is a positive for Silicon Valley for the overall tech sector. Had the merger been blocked, it would have been a near term negative even though it adds another competitor into the mix," Ives added.
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