May 26, 2017 - Economy

Media deals increase under Trump

The number of media mergers and acquisitions in the first quarter of 2017 rose to the highest rate in two years. While President Trump raised concerns on the campaign trail about increasing concentration in the media and communications sectors, many investors and executives are optimistic his Administration will allow many deals to proceed.

Data: Thomson Reuters and PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios
Data: Thomson Reuters and PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why it matters: According to PriceWaterhouseCooper's Bart Spiegel, a partner in its Entertainment, Media and Communications Deals Practice, concern about the regulatory environment under Trump has given way to relief, making investors more confident.

Regulatory landscape:

  • Broadcast/Cable: The FCC recently eased broadcast ownership limits, clearing the way for mergers. Cable companies are consolidating as the industry faces declining revenues and audiences. (For example: Sinclair acquired Tribune to increase reach in key market areas.)
  • Telecommunications: Telecom companies want to gain a foothold in content they can monetize, and acquiring digital and companies and video programming gives them those steady cash flows. (Example: NBC bought the majority stake in Craftsy in May for $230 million. Verizon will finish its acquisition of the new combined Yahoo/AOL digital business "Oath" in June. AT&T's proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner is under Justice Department review.) And as Axios' David McCabe reported, telecom merger chatter is picking up now that the FCC's spectrum auction has concluded.
  • Publishing: People are unloading dead print companies they can't monetize. Companies in need of steady cash flows that already have the infrastructure to support print may think the acquisition makes sense for them. (Example: Meredith Corp. had considered buying Time Inc. and its print assets.)
  • Advertising: A focus on the shift to digital is forcing agencies to acquire more digital businesses and ad-tech businesses that target audiences and measure ad effectiveness. (Example: Outbrain and Taboola, two of the largest ad networks, are said to be discussing a merger.)

Trump bump: The Trump Administration, and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, have been rolling back old regulations and establishing new ones that have been helpful for telecom companies looking to expand. Per Axios' Kim Hart and David McCabe: "Wall Street and telecom CEOs see the new administration as more open to industry consolidation, opening the door to potential combinations like Sprint and T-Mobile, or even the rumored marriage of Charter and Verizon."

What's next?

"We are continuing to see an active deal market and expect to see deals on the horizon that may challenge our traditional sensibilities around ownership limits, subscriber caps, reach, etc," PWC's Spiegel says. "This is all being driven by a change in tone under the new administration."
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