Follow Up: Disney & Comcast Bidding War Round 2

In a follow up to an earlier post on this topic, the bidding war between Disney and Comcast over the assets of 21st Century Fox entered round 2 on Wednesday.

Disney announced that they have increased their bid to Fox up to $71.3 billion with the ratios being half cash/half stock instead of an all cash bid. This represents an increase from the $31.00 per share offer Disney originally made for Fox to reflect a new valuation of about $38.00 per share.

The new Disney bid is also 10% higher than the bid that Comcast made recently. The financial news media has been buzzing about this activity all day in the most recent in a long series of events involving this potentially huge acquisition.

However, the perspective that is intriguing is the seemingly increasingly conflicted viewpoints from those in the industry about what Comcast should do and how they should respond. Some anticipate a new bid from Comcast, a counter punch to Disney which is rumored to be around $41.00 per share.

Then, there are others who maintain that Comcast should let it go, that they should walk away and let Disney acquire Fox. The rationale being that it is going to become an expensive and exhaustive process with Disney that will leave Comcast over-leveraged. The ultimate value of Fox will be offset by the damage it will do to Comcast in both the short-term and long-term through the process they would take to obtain the Fox content/assets.

In my perspective I can see both sides of the argument and can understand why Comcast could push even further into the bidding war, or why they could ultimately surrender their position. The question of value will certainly come up in the next week or so while this plays out: What is the value of Fox and what it can provide my business?

The answer to that question looms largely over Comcast HQ in Philadelphia today. The content that Fox holds is certainly intriguing, and content is the new currency in the media industry, as it has been explained on Frank’s Forum in the past.

Moreover, Disney has deep pockets and is a larger entity than Comcast. The impetus for Disney is all of the ways they can maximize new streams of revenue through the rights to the content that Fox currently holds. Disney is the best in the industry at taking characters and marketing/merchandising them to their maximum potential.

In addition, Disney can afford a bidding war here for Fox, where Comcast could be left with some damage from a war with Disney. Disney, as reported by CNBC, also needs the content for their new streaming app service. Comcast has content in the pipeline and has video on demand services for their customers.

The anti-trust regulations are another potential trouble spot for Comcast in this bid. My most recent work detailed the AT&T merger with Time Warner and the differences between horizontal and vertical mergers.

The U.S. federal regulators according to Bloomberg News are likely to approve the Disney bid for Fox. The rationale, as I have written previously, is because they view Disney as a content company that has no stake in telecommunications/cable TV services or broadcast television.

Conversely, the regulators view Comcast as a horizontal threat to create a monopoly because their core business is telecommunications and cable/broadcast television service. That perception is a big issue for Comcast in this bidding war.

In the end, some industry people have predicted that this bidding war will go another round with Disney winning the bid at $45.00 per share valuation of Fox. The other faction believes that this will not go another round, that either Comcast will announce that they have quit, or Fox will state that the Disney bid on the table is acceptable to their shareholders.

The fact will remain that it looks like Disney will get even larger as a result of this deal. They will have a treasure trove of new content and could have tremendous influence on how we, as consumers, gain access to content. The implications of this merger will have a profound impact on the media landscape in the future.

Comcast has the next move, and time will tell how “conflicted” they are over this potential acquisition.

Follow Up: Court Allows AT&T – Time Warner Merger

The merger proposal seeking to join AT&T and Time Warner has been surrounded by controversy almost from the time it was first announced. This proposed merger of a telecommunications and media distribution giant and one of the largest media content creation companies in the world has been the subject of several prior pieces on Frank’s Forum.

The blockbuster $85 billion merger was being held up by a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice over anti-trust concerns. The government was very concerned about AT&T’s ownership of DirecTV and the impact that the merger with Time Warner would have on the costs for rival cable companies to carry channels such as HBO, CNN, TNT, and TBS.

The government was pushing for certain conditions such as having any disputes over high cable prices in light of the AT&T – DirecTV connection be directed to 3rd party arbitration to determine a fair judgement on price. The other condition centered upon blackout rights.

However, the judge in the case, Judge Leon, approved the merger without any conditions attached. The judge viewed the case strictly in terms of a vertical merger between two companies with different core strengths.

The precedent in anti-trust suits very often favors vertical mergers versus horizontal mergers. Some recent examples of horizontal mergers of two entities in the same type of industry are Office Depot and Staples and Walgreens and Rite Aid, both of those mergers failed due to anti-trust concerns over pricing of office supplies or pharmaceuticals, respectively.

The next steps for the government are unclear. The judge, Judge Leon, asked the Department of Justice to not appeal or seek a stay on the decision. His basis for this request is that both sides have spent an exorbitant amount in the case in legal fees and court fees in the “tens of millions”. The view of the court is that AT&T and Time Warner do not compete with one another currently and that the same opinion will be found by another court proceeding.

Some feel that the judge is right on point with this decision on this case. The other sentiment is that the conditions should have been attached to the decision to protect the consumer from hiked cable prices.

In my view, I maintain that the judge neglected to recognize the connection with DirecTV and the potential for the Time Warner properties in the cable television realm could be manipulated to make an unfair advantage for DirecTV. This becomes a bigger issue when certain customers cannot have a satellite dish where they reside. It could result in them paying more for cable or premium channels such as HBO.

The domino effect from this merger will impact potential merger opportunities in the works right now which have been featured on this blog in the past. The big story of the day on Wednesday is the impact this merger decision will have on the Comcast proposal for the assets of 21st Century Fox.

Comcast had stated publicly that they would not get involved in the bid for Fox unless the court gave the green light to AT&T in this case. Comcast was seeking to avoid a protracted lawsuit. The wild card here is that should Comcast make a bid for Fox, the government could get involved because they are both in the same business. The court could see a case for the government because it will be viewed as a horizontal merger, which could become a long slog in the courts for Comcast.

Disney and their bid for Fox has a slightly different perception because they view Disney as a content creator and entertainment company which does not have any expertise in delivering telecommunications services or with cable equipment. They are seen as having a potentially easier path to potentially obtaining Fox.

The stock price outlook for Comcast has been slashed by major investment banks and fell to about $30 per share this morning. This signals that if they do make a play for Fox and get in a bidding war with Disney, they will eventually have to buy back shares. The maneuvers have a direct impact on the valuation of the company.

This merger also brings new traction for CBS and Verizon as a potential opportunity to join forces in the future. CVS also gained from this decision because they are seeking to buy Aetna and this court decision on Time Warner proves that CVS has some viable evidence that this play for Aetna can be seen as a vertical merger opportunity.

This mega merger will make AT&T a much larger player in the media landscape which also brings to the forefront the battle between “old media” versus “new media”. The reality is that if old media outlets do not join together they will be destroyed by the new media giants such as Amazon, Google, Netflix, and Facebook.

The other reality is that the court looked at this merger with the perspective that cable television services will have to drop prices in order to compete with new media so they are going to allow it to move forward.

The next big prospective M&A prospects are Fox and CBS. The Viacom scenario was a disaster and CBS is looking to move forward to partner with someone else to gain competitive traction as other entities are getting larger.
The effects of this merger will be felt for a long time to come. The way that AT&T handles the marketing and promotion of the former Time Warner channels when they are provided to other cable TV providers such as Fios, Comcast, and Dish.

The domino effect on the other mergers in play right now will also create conditions where the precedent could be difficult for the government to try to protect against the anti-trust implications involved.

In the end, this merger sets the stage between old media versus new media and how that will play out will have a definite impact on the American consumer.

Bayer Announces End To Monsanto Name After Merger

The mega merger between Bayer and Monsanto was approved last week by the U.S. Justice Department ending months of anti-trust scrutiny. Bayer will have to sell off an unprecedented $9 billion in industry assets in order to clear the regulatory hurdles and the deal is expected to close on Thursday.

The news on Monday was that Bayer will end the Monsanto name after the merger due to the negative public image it has with consumers. The news is not surprising given the backlash Monsanto has received for years from the American public and the farming industry.

The news that the merger was going to move forward is a surprise to many people, the companies are both huge and have very diverse product portfolios. However, those product portfolios are clustered in the same types of industries especially when comparing the agriculture products holdings of both companies.

Therefore, that necessitated the big sell-off of assets by Bayer to make this merger happen. The precedent for a merger this large to actually be approved will have a tremendous impact on future M&A activity.

The Bayer – Monsanto merger will clear the path for mega-mergers to take place in other industries in the future. This is a merger that makes Dow-DuPont look small and that is a frightening prospect.

In my view I think the “Big Pharma” industry and the major media companies are going to try to capitalize on this merger with attempting to push through M&A proposals of their own in similar scale. The biotech field could also use this merger as an example of precedent for their own consolidation activity.
Furthermore, this merger between two titans in the agricultural industry will have an impact on the Disney bidding war with Comcast over the remaining assets of 21st Century Fox. That is a big decision that federal regulators will eventually have to make which will have an impact on the consumer who spends time watching TV or movies.

The Bayer – Monsanto deal is far more significant because, even though the Monsanto name is being erased from history, the products they manufacture will remain. The brand names such as Roundup will remain active and the merger with Bayer will not change anything, it is business as usual. This is bad news for the consumers, the farmers, and just about everybody.

Monsanto has built a negative public perception and an even worse brand image on the unabashed manufacturing of pesticides, herbicides, weed killers, and GMO containing seeds for food crops. The company has continued to make products that have been linked to certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, asthma, autism, and a host of other maladies.

The perception of Bayer in the U.S. is one that largely is shaped by the eponymous brand name of aspirin that is very popular as well as Alka Seltzer and some other branded products in the drug store channel. Those brands enjoy a largely positive image in America, and in my conversations with many people about this topic another theme came to the surface.

That theme is that German companies have a perception of integrity and for producing goods of high quality. The people I spoke with had the impression that Bayer would “turn around” Monsanto and that European influence would be for them to start making organic, environmentally friendly, and non-GMO containing seeds.

Unfortunately, from all the public statements we have from Bayer in Germany that will not be the case in this merger. They plan on keeping the U.S. headquarters for the new conglomerate in St. Louis, and they plan to continue to make those same products that Monsanto is producing currently. This is not to imply either that Bayer lacks integrity or that European companies are losing that sense of common values because that would be an inaccurate generalization.

Bayer is a microcosm of society: it creates some things that make the world better and it creates some things that make the world worse. It is also a perception versus the reality, some people feel that GMOs are safe and that having a good-looking lawn is more important than not using chemicals on the grass.

That strategic direction may surprise some people, especially Americans, but it is to be expected. Bayer will inherit brands from Monsanto that make billions of dollars in revenue each year. The American consumer and the farmers lose out here because this merger creates less competition in the seed and other agricultural products areas. The American consumer loses because the GMO and genetically altered food fight just became more difficult to win.

In the end, Bayer might enjoy a positive public perception in America right now, but it remains to be seen how that might change in the months and years ahead. The name Monsanto might be retired from the ranks, and Twitter is going to take the place of Monsanto in the S&P 500 this week, but Bayer is now tied to the legacy that Monsanto has built, and it is a rather negative one at best.

Bayer has made statements that they plan to “engage the consumer in new ways” I have no idea what that means. I do know that it does not include the discontinuation of Roundup or any of the other harmful chemical products produced by Monsanto.

This merger will have a direct impact on the American food supply, on the prevalence of genetically engineered ingredients in food, and on the future of mega-mergers. The effects of this merger will be seismic and will be felt for a long time to come.