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The WarnerMedia-Discovery deal could have gone very differently.

The WarnerMedia-Discovery deal could have gone very differently.

ECONOMIC NEWS

The WarnerMedia-Discovery deal could have gone very differently.

After its $100 billion deal to buy Time Warner, and spending millions more to fight a Justice Department lawsuit that delayed the deal, AT&T wants a do-over. This reversal culminated in the announcement last week that it would spin off WarnerMedia, as the former Time Warner is now known, to merge with the reality-TV giant Discovery.In the three short years since AT&T closed the deal to buy Time Warner, AT&T radically upended the business by cutting staff, angering the talent and firing executives and becoming something of a Hollywood villain. Some of WarnerMedia’s most successful executives, including Richard Plepler of HBO, left or were pushed out. The company cut more than 2,000 jobs.It could have been different if a phone call in 2016 had come just a few weeks earlier, according to the DealBook newsletter. In October that year, shortly before Time Warner and AT&T first announced their deal, Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company at the time, placed a call to Jeffrey Bewkes, the head of Time Warner, according to two people familiar with those details.The Disney leader asked Mr. Bewkes if he’d be interested in a possible merger. It was too late, Mr. Bewkes said: There was already something in the works. Mr. Iger wished him well and hung up the phone. Later, Mr. Iger called another media chief in the hopes of forging a deal. It was Rupert Murdoch.


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