Follow Up: CVS Merger With Aetna Looks Doomed

The CVS and Aetna mega-merger in the healthcare space is, according to many trusted sources of news, doomed to be rejected in federal court. This merger has been the subject of many other pieces here on Frank’s Forum and the many aspects of this potential deal have been scrutinized.

In a prior piece, the role of the federal judge, Judge Richard Leon, was detailed with the background that he oversaw the AT&T merger with Time Warner, where he dismissed the claims of the Justice Department that it would harm competition and disrupt equal access to content made by Time Warner media properties.

In a few short months, AT&T has tried to limit content to provide an advantage to DirecTV (also owned by AT&T). The decision by Judge Leon has been criticized by numerous groups within the industry.

Then, the news that this same judge would oversee the gigantic proposed deal between CVS and Aetna. The pressure that Leon applied to CVS/Aetna was seen by many to be similar to a “make up call” in sports; where the referee knows they made a mistake earlier, so they make a different call to make up for the prior faulty ruling.

The $69 billion agreement between CVS and Aetna would be a rather landmark “make up call” and would certainly have repercussions across the industries of both healthcare and health insurance. The stock price for CVS took a tumble on Tuesday amid the reports that the court will likely submarine the planned merger.

In the center of the debate is the opinion of Judge Leon that CVS would be given an unfair advantage to their PBM business unit with the addition of over 20 million Aetna subscribers who would be pushed into an exclusivity with CVS for their prescription drug coverage. The secondary concerns have to do with prices on prescription drugs, and the Medicare Part D plans that Aetna offers.

Aetna has agreed to sell the Medicare Part D plans and has a deal in place for that which was a stipulation of the original merger agreement. The case certainly could go badly if the court reverses the ruling, and that will create uncertainty for the future of the merger.

The two parties could explore a recalibrated merger proposal making some types of concessions based on the feedback from the eventual court ruling this summer. The Department of Justice may also have some feedback in the process that would be taken under advisement by both CVS and Aetna. The DOJ could also appeal the decision of the court, though some experts feel that it could be hard to overturn the decision on appeal.

CVS is on a quest to become an elite healthcare company with the acquisition of Caremark and they seek to further transform themselves into with the merger with Aetna so that they are not reliant on just the traditional retail pharmacy channel. That is a smart strategic direction with the emergence of Amazon into the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

CVS was hopeful that gaining Aetna would help with the overall valuation of the company in the eyes of Wall Street. Aetna was hopeful that merging with CVS would provide them with a built-in base of consumers who would purchase healthcare products and who had a high brand loyalty to CVS.

The whole merger, and all of the time and money poured into it, which is a significant cost, is at stake. The ruling of Judge Leon will have a dramatic impact on both companies, their stock value, and the entire healthcare industry.

(Some background information courtesy of Barron’s, New York Post, and CNBC)

Follow Up: CBS – Viacom Merger Talks Intensify Again

This follow up piece seems like a recurring dream, something you remember doing and then find yourself doing again, the CBS-Viacom merger talks are back in full swing. The earlier work on this site about the merger focused on a variety of angles: the business implications of the deal, the consumer impact of the deal, the changes in the media industry, the inner workings of the CBS feud with National Amusements, the power struggle at the top of the company, and finally the potential for CBS to be purchased by a tech company.

This piece will look at the current situation as well as why some of those other aspects did not ultimately come to fruition. The power struggle and the resistance of CBS from being merged with Viacom has shifted since Les Moonves was dismissed as CEO last Fall after sexual misconduct allegations mounted against him.

The business landscape has changed as well with Disney obtaining the 21st Century Fox subsidiary units and movie studio, and AT&T merging with Time Warner to create Warner Media. These maneuvers have certainly put some pressure on Shari Redstone and National Amusements to determine how CBS is going to stay competitive in an ever-changing media dynamic.

Furthermore, the situation at CBS has changed since the talks began a few years ago, where the network side of the business was home to huge ratings hit shows. The viewership has moved away from network broadcast programs to the streaming and premium cable channels. This has seen series from Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming providers take ratings share away from the “Big Four”.

In addition, the hit series from HBO such as “Game of Thrones”, Epix, Starz, Showtime, and other premium networks all have produced original content that have siphoned viewership away from the networks, and with that goes a portion of the advertising revenue.

It is not like CBS does not have series programs that capture viewers. However if you look at the ratings for the 2018-19 television season, CBS series have performed at a downward trend. The following data supports that and is most definitely driving CBS and Viacom back to the negotiating table:
“Big Bang Theory” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 17% year-over-year and down 8.2% of viewers overall.
“Young Sheldon” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 21.7% year-over-year and down 11.3% of viewers overall.
“NCIS” 18 to 49-year-old demographic down 11.1% year over-year and down 6.6% overall viewers.
“Mom” 18 to 49 -year-old demographic down 15.2% year-over-year and down 7.7% of overall viewers.
That is alarming when the top four shows on the network are down in the coveted 18 to 49 and overall metrics. The network has other shows in the top ten shows of their lineup including “NCIS : Los Angeles” and “Man With A Plan” that are also down significantly in both categories.

The other issue is that aside from “Big Bang Theory”, which is in its final season, all of the other series mentioned have been renewed for next season. The network introduced just eight new series this TV season so far, and most of those concepts are cancelled already. The reality is that CBS has had a great run at the top of the ratings book for a while, but they need fresh new concepts. The whole lineup needs to be revamped.

The business is changing and they have to adapt with that in order to stay relevant. The network has also been struck with a stretch of bad luck. The Super Bowl this past February was the lowest scoring championship game in history, and viewers checked out of it, so ratings were down for the biggest television event of the year.

The network also has the rights to the NCAA men’s basketball championship and those ratings were down because the two teams in the championship (Virginia and Texas Tech) were not a ratings draw for the average viewer.

The internal politics of the dynamics there, which has been covered previously on this site, adds another layer of turmoil. The parent company of both CBS and Viacom is National Amusements International (NAI). The dismissal of Moonves means that CBS needs to appoint a new CEO, these new negotiations over the Viacom merger will hold up that process.

The speculation is that the merged CBS and Viacom would most likely be run by Bob Bakish, who currently runs Viacom because he has a close relationship with Shari Redstone who runs NAI in place of her father who is ill and not in the picture. The combined company would either continue to grow using the content and synergies between the two entertainment entities, or they could fetch interest by a larger investor who could buy the whole combined company.

In prior coverage of this topic, CBS was reluctant to merge with Viacom because they were hopeful that a larger “new media” company would purchase them from NAI. They even had a window negotiated to get that type of deal done. In my view, I had speculated that CBS would be purchased by Verizon to propel their expansion into the content that every media company is looking to capture.

There were others who speculated that Amazon would purchase CBS because of their existing business relationship/partnership for streaming of certain content on Amazon Prime Video. That also did not materialize. The fact is that the “new media” or tech companies are focusing on developing their own content and they are not interested in purchasing the assets of another company.

It is similar to football and getting a quarterback, most teams do not want to acquire another team’s guy that has already been in another system, the team would rather draft their own guy and build them up from the foundation according to the principles and techniques that they coach as an organization. The tech companies do not want someone else’s productions, they want to build up their own productions.

It is in this light that the jump-started negotiations between CBS and Viacom should be viewed. The reality is that CBS would have been purchased already if a potential buyer was interested. The combined unit would bolster the content holdings of the company as a single entity with much more cable television content from BET, MTV, CMT, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, among others.

The reality is that while this merger might not be the ideal one for either side because of all of the history and the bad blood between the two companies (made complicated by the fact that they are both underneath the same parent company in NAI) it is the only deal on the table right now. Both entities are heading toward a scenario where they will not survive as separate units.

The impact for the consumer if the two companies should merge could go either way because CBS/Viacom could potentially negotiate better deals with advertisers and for cable rights carriage fees which could lower the cost of some cable or satellite packages.

However, it could go the opposite direction and the combined entity could decide to park streaming content into CBS All Access, which is a subscription based streaming application and they could hike up the membership fee. The combined CBS/Viacom could also create their own apps for each network or put them all on a combined stand-alone streaming application for the Viacom properties and then charge a membership fee for that content.

In the end, the next few weeks to the next couple of months could yield some big news in the media industry. The board members opposed to this deal have been removed, these negotiations seemed poised for a completed merger between two companies with a deep history of resentment. The dust will settle and then we will know whether this combined company will help or hinder the average viewer. We will also know whether this merger will have limited or significant impact on the industry overall.

Stats, some background information courtesy of Fox News, TV Series Finale.com, Nielsen)

Disney Merger With Fox: What Does It Mean?

I have been asked several times today by people who know that I have covered the Disney – Fox merger about what it means for the average person with a cable, satellite, or streaming services package subscription. The deal has also created a significant amount of understandable confusion regarding what Disney will end up controlling, and what assets from Fox are not part of the transaction.

The Disney acquisition of certain assets of the Fox media and entertainment empire has been in the works for several months. The driving forces behind both sides making this deal are different, but the transaction obviously helps both sides or else it would not have been completed.

In an earlier piece on this merger, I explained how Disney is looking to add content for the launch of their streaming app service to rival Netflix and Amazon, called “Disney+”. This acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets, FX Network, National Geographic Network, and the Fox stake in the Hulu streaming service provides Disney with loads of content ownership.

Fox was looking to streamline their operations and cut themselves loose from the studio holdings that have high overhead costs associated with them. The move away from some of their more ancillary cable television holdings would allow them to focus on their core offerings of news, business news, and sports. These areas have higher profitability from the advertising sales perspective.

Many people are confused about this merger and think that Disney, which already owns ABC and ESPN, will now own Fox networks like their flagship channel, Fox News, Fox Business, and FS1. Those same people are curious as to how that would pass through the antitrust regulations of the federal government.
However, that is not the case. Fox will maintain ownership of their networks here in the U.S. and abroad as well as Fox News, Fox Business, and Fox Sports (FS1 and FS2 networks) in the newly created entity called Fox Corporation.

Disney will gain the outlying assets that I detailed earlier and will begin to seek what their CEO, Bob Iger, described in the press release as “cost synergies”; which translates into layoffs of people that they deem as redundant in the newly merged entities. Disney will also undoubtably look to expand upon the Marvel movies, and maximize merchandising opportunities by creating stand-alone movies on specific characters that were once the property of Fox.

Fox will look to expand the development of programming for their mainstream Fox network as well as gaining new rights agreements for live sports content on the Fox Sports networks. They will no longer be able to produce TV programs in their own studio which will impact their overall production costs, but they will save the overhead of maintaining 21st Century Fox and the Fox TV studio areas.

The Fox networks will be able to purchase productions made in the Disney/21st Century studios. Their sports division is heavily invested in soccer with a World Cup coming up in three years, and will continue to invest in soccer and other sports content namely the NFL package.

The merger is similar to the AT&T / Time Warner consolidation that I covered in multiple pieces over the course of that time frame through the process. It remains to be seen whether content will become limited by Disney to the other cable or satellite providers. I think the streaming content will certainly be limited, but Disney does not have a “horse in the race” like AT&T does with DirecTV on the distribution side of the business.

The deal was certainly a big win for Disney prior to the launch of their new streaming service. The media landscape has condensed and the content that is so valuable is landing in the hands of the few. The average consumer should prepare to pay a subscription fee for the Disney streaming service in addition to any other memberships they currently maintain.

The capabilities of Disney to produce outstanding content is well established, the acquisition today is going to make them even more formidable in the years to follow.

(Some background courtesy of CNN, CNBC, and The Financial Times)

Follow Up: CBS, Viacom, A Lawsuit, & Verizon

In a follow up to the earlier coverage on this merger, the drama around CBS and National Amusements (parent company of both CBS and Viacom) took a disastrous turn on Monday. The board at CBS took a harsh tactic in the negotiations by suing National Amusements in a Delaware court to block the potential merger with Viacom.

The suit seeks to dilute the authority that National Amusements has in CBS by reducing their voting stock percentages and other high level business machinations which are involved in certain situations when a company is going into a defensive mode to avoid consolidation.

The lawsuit also involves CBS seeking the protection of the CBS Board of Directors from being altered by National Amusements at any point now or in the future. This is a maneuver intended on preventing Shari Redstone from removing certain board members at CBS who have indicated that they are against the Viacom merger, and having her “stack the deck” with people aligned with her in pushing through the merger.

Furthermore, the suit also seeks protection for CBS so that they essentially do not have to accept a “bad merger” deal. This news on the lawsuit comes from Forbes, CNBC, and USA Today. Redstone, has stated that she had no intention of making changes to the CBS board, and both sides are pointing fingers.

This situation is getting ugly, to say the least, and it is unusual too because National Amusements has a hand in both entities already. The normal circumstances of other mergers or acquisitions are between two sides that have no prior affiliation. The ruling of the court in this situation will provide some insight into the potential path that this merger will take in the months ahead.
The court ruling will also provide a legal precedent for the future for M&A activity of this type. In my earlier feature length piece on this merger, the variables were presented regarding the differences of strategic vision that Ms. Redstone and Les Moonves (who runs CBS) had regarding the future of the company.

The merger makes some degree of sense because the assets of Viacom, particularly the cable television outlets, would provide CBS with more content to control and also a wider footprint in cable TV. The recent industry report that was published yesterday touts that cable television revenues have increased by about 10% nationally would seem to indicate that this potential merger is timely for CBS.

However, in my experience covering M&A activity, I kept returning to the rationale behind why CBS would take the option on Monday to sue National Amusements (which some in the media call “the nuclear option”). The only scenario that made sense to me was that CBS had another deal forthcoming or another potential partner for a deal they were trying to work out in back channels.

The one potentially fit in my mind was Verizon, because it had been rumored before, and I wrote about that possibility in an M&A “roundup” type piece I did on media companies. The synergy between Verizon and CBS makes sense for both parties given the other acquisitions and consolidations surrounding both of those entities.

Verizon is under pressure from AT&T, who is attempting to merge with Time Warner, and the federal government has a lawsuit in place currently to block that merger. Comcast is in the process of a bidding war with Disney over the assets of 21st Century Fox as well.

In fact, some within the financial news media suggested that Verizon may have backed off from making a formal proposal to CBS because of the federal government response to the AT&T deal with Time Warner.

The news broke about three hours ago today that Verizon has had contact with CBS and that there is some renewed interest in a potentially deal. That makes sense given the steps that CBS has taken with the lawsuit here against National Amusements. They may not want to take the Viacom deal if they have a better deal with Verizon.

The rather limited cable presence of CBS (Showtime and a couple of smaller channels) would be enhanced by a partnership with Verizon. The network shows on CBS are tremendous ratings drivers, which along with the NFL and other sports content, makes CBS a desirable commodity for Verizon as they seek to keep up with their competitors in the marketplace.

The Verizon potential involvement could be the “wrench” that gets thrown in the CBS – Viacom negotiations that causes a rift that cannot be repaired. The decision of the court will loom over this merger and will be pivotal to which direction it takes in the months ahead.

In the meantime, if the AT&T lawsuit with the government gets resolved that will determine the strategic direction that Comcast will take in the bidding war with Disney over Fox and will provide guidance to Verizon as they determine their commitment to acquire CBS. It is similar to a giant game of dominoes, except that billions of dollars are at stake as well as the careers of many seasoned industry executives, and the fate of consumer choice hangs in the balance.

Follow Up: CBS Merger With Viacom Gets Contentious

The back and forth nature of the proposed CBS merger with Viacom has taken a turn that is very contentious. The discord centers around Shari Redstone, who controls National Amusements which owns Viacom, and Les Moonves the current top guy at CBS.

Redstone and Moonves had initially discussed, according to CNBC that Moonves would run the combined new entity for a period of two years. The reports widely distributed point to the source of the contention being control over the top management team selections. Moonves wants the authority to assemble his own team of people to run the newly combined company.

In addition, Moonves wants his longtime colleague, Joe Ianniello , to be his second-in-command at the combined venture. However, Redstone wants Bob Bakish (the current Viacom CEO) as the second-in-command to Moonves at the newly merged CBS-Viacom.

This comes down to relationships, which frequently is the lowest common denominator in these situations but also the most important one. Shari Redstone holds a great deal of authority here in this situation and she obviously feels strongly that Bakish deserves a “seat at the table” in the new entity.

The view and position of Les Moonves is also understandable, he and Bakish do not work together every day. Moonves and Ianniello work together daily at CBS and have a loyalty to each other that would most definitely serve the combined company well.

Furthermore, the rumor mill is swirling with media reports of Shari Redstone being prepared to let Moonves go and create a whole new CBS board. These developments make an already turbulent situation even that much worse. The executives at CBS have thought from the onset of the negotiations that the Viacom offer for CBS is undervalued.

Therefore, in addition to feeling “low balled” on the offer, they also feel like they are under attack by Redstone, and they are getting defensive in their posture of response. These are natural human emotions that are taking place with a mega-merger hanging in the balance.

The sticking point, from a business perspective and a public relations/investor relations perspective is to have an experienced executive at the helm of such a large and complex operation as the proposed entity of CBS-Viacom would represent. The analysts on Wall Street have confidence in Les Moonves in that spot, with Bob Bakish in that position or someone else with less experience, that would not produce a favorable response from Wall Street.

The other scenario at play here behind the scenes is the sentiment that Viacom needs this merger more than CBS does at this point. This notion has degrees of truth because Viacom has the need for a partner for their basic cable networks in order to gain better leverage in negotiations with cable and satellite providers. Viacom also has the Paramount movie studio which is losing money seemingly by the minute.

Conversely, CBS needs to position itself to compete within an ever-changing climate in the television industry. The merger would provide CBS with more content to drive on their CBS All Access streaming platform. It would also provide CBS with more “pull” with advertisers that are looking to gain exposure for their brands across multiple cable networks as well as national broadcast programing.

The faster they realize that they need each other, the faster this deal will come together. They need to solve this acrimony which exists around the selection of key appointments to the management team of the new entity. The two sides should consider some type of compromise because the experienced leadership Moonves could provide to the new combined company is not easily replaced. I would think they could find some type of important role for Bakish to play in the combined new company.

These connections, the loyalty, and the relationships that these key people have with each other could serve to make this merger be one of great success. It can also have the reverse effect and create a massive mess for a merger deal of this type and carry over through the initial years of the new entity. It remains to be seen which direction that this situation will head down in the weeks ahead.

The Battle Over Sky News: Front Lines In The Media Battle Between Comcast and Disney

The financial news had some buzz around the potential for a bidding war between Disney/FOX and Comcast for Sky News/Networks on Tuesday. This activity signals what could be the opening salvo in a protracted battle between the major players in the television/visual media to play out across the next several months.

In this case, the asset is Sky News/Networks which has a viewership reach in Europe that is valuable for media companies seeking to expand their capacity and content distribution. In the current situation, FOX owns part of Sky and presented a bid recently to purchase the remaining stake it did not own.

Comcast jumped into the mix on Tuesday with an offer to purchase a controlling interest in Sky which represents a 16% higher valuation than the offer made by FOX. This situation is further complicated by the pending merger of Disney and FOX which essentially puts Disney into the driver’s seat on this deal because Disney would ultimately own Sky upon completion of the merger.

This means that Disney would have to evaluate the offer made by Comcast and decide whether they will propose a counter proposal for Sky. Many financial and merger experts with knowledge of the situation believe that a counter offer will take place and that Sky Networks will end up selling at a premium after a bidding war between Disney and Comcast.

Furthermore, the sentiment in the industry on Tuesday was that Disney might, in essence, lose the battle for Sky Networks, but “win the war” by securing some type of legal assurances from Comcast regarding the bidding for other FOX assets. Disney wants to avoid having bidding wars with Comcast over several different pieces of the now almost former 21st Century Fox properties.

It remains to be seen whether Disney can wrangle that type of agreement out of Comcast which would be unusual but not unprecedented. The general sentiment about the future of Sky is that they would be best suited with Comcast because it meshes better with their core business.

Many consumers visualize Sky as a news company, especially in America where we may have the channel as part of a cable or satellite TV package. The parent company, Sky PLC, which is what is at stake here in this potential bidding war between Comcast and Disney/FOX is much larger than just a news service.

Sky has a satellite television service, broadband service, on-demand internet streaming services, and telecommunications service offerings in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Austria, Germany, and Italy. This asset would increase the service offering capabilities for Disney with their new streaming application or for Comcast who is in the business of optimizing home entertainment, broadband, and telecommunications services.

Moreover, the much larger battle will revolve around the future of Hulu. The Hulu streaming service is owned partially by ABC/Disney, FOX, and Comcast (NBC). The proposed merger of the Disney and FOX assets would include their respective stakes in Hulu.

In fact, the potential to control streaming content through Hulu was one of the significant factors in the Disney bid for FOX according to a report from CNBC and Comcast could create some trouble in giving up their piece in Hulu in the future.

The total sum of this consolidation activity, amid the backdrop of Disney preparing for launch of their own streaming application service, will affect the consumer. The rights to content and the distribution of content will be the main driver in the way the consumer accesses all types of media. The control of that content into the hands of the few, is going to set the table for conditions where pricing can become prohibitive.

Disney, should the pending merger meet approval, would retain their 30% share in Hulu plus gain the 30% share held by FOX and would be the majority stakeholder in the streaming service which reaches over 30 million subscribers and has revenues from ad sales and subscription fees. It is also a significant asset that Comcast has invested money into as well and they may not be willing to just part ways with their stake. They could put Disney “over the barrel” for that last big piece of the Hulu business unit.

The overall health of Sky as a provider is solid, it is my understanding that the business growth in Italy was stagnant for a long period of time but that it has since rebounded. It remains to be seen if the change in ownership causes any noticeable alterations to the way that the customers in Europe will be serviced. Most merger and acquisition type of scenarios feature the potential suitors touting the benefits they would bring to the table.

This case is no different with Comcast essentially stating that they would improve the services offered currently by Sky and use their technology and service delivery expertise to help provide a better customer experience.

Disney has also made similar overtures in their bid stating how desirable Sky would be for them to reach European audiences in a new way, and that they would fully complete the consolidation of an asset that was held in part by FOX for a long period of time. They would look to build upon that tradition and reputation that FOX has built into the programming and content there, but the management of the other portions of that business are outside the scope of the core business for Disney.

The proposals for Sky News and the parent company, Sky PLC, are almost certainly going to create a bidding war between two media heavyweights: Disney and Comcast. This bid could very well represent the opening round of a war between the two entities for other assets contained both within the FOX/21st Century Fox business and outside of those businesses.

The stakes for the consumer are high because the control of content and distribution will both be up for grabs, and the costs for access to that content will have a definitive impact on the consumer in the future. It remains to be seen which side will ultimately emerge, but what is clear is that either Disney or Comcast will be growing even larger and more influential than they are today.

(Background information courtesy of Fortune, BBC.com, CNBC, Recode)

CBS & Viacom Explore Merger Again

The news on Wednesday that CBS and Viacom were once again exploring a merger opportunity should come as no surprise given that the same person, Shari Redstone, is “running the show” at both corporations because her father, who is the chairman of CBS is very ill.

The potential merger is being driven by a strategy to get ahead of the likely merger of AT&T and Time Warner which would create an enormous media conglomerate. The recent merger that is likely to meet full approval between Disney and FOX is another reason for CBS and Viacom to view each other as a potential “port in the storm” scenario.

The combination of the two entities would combine television/media content creation and broadcasting with the expertise Viacom has in distribution of that content. The ability to have expertise in both areas is becoming a necessity in the mainstream media in order to be able to negotiate profitable distribution agreements.

Furthermore, the synergy of content creation/broadcasting and distribution is becoming crucial for the smaller players in the industry to be able to stay relevant with the competition from Disney/FOX and AT&T – Time Warner (AT&T also owns DirecTV).

This is especially relevant when you consider that AT&T has a market cap of over $200 billion and CBS has a market cap of $23 billion. In the event that AT&T merges with Time Warner that number could be close to $300 billion. The Disney and FOX deal will put that combined corporation at around $250 billion in market cap.
The CBS – Viacom deal might become a necessary move to ensure their own survival in the changing media landscape. The distribution of content is critical, and control of content is also an integral part of the connection between content and profitability. The two companies have several areas of cross-compatibility which is suitable for a merger opportunity.

The merger, if approved, would potentially bring together a more robust stable of networks that are widely available on basic cable packages that would provide leverage for CBS & Viacom when negotiating the carriage fee agreements.

This same principle would apply outside of the U.S. domestic market where a combined entity would be a serious player in the international media / television broadcasting space. My own depth of knowledge is not in the international market but plenty of coverage is out there on that area of this potential deal.

The streaming service that CBS operates called CBS All Access would gain a significant increase in content by merging with Viacom. CBS would also obtain the control of the Viacom owned Paramount movie studio, which should be noted is struggling at this point.

Wall Street is not keen on this deal, according to Forbes they do not see the synergies or the market caps of the combined entity being significant enough to make a difference in the media industry at this point. It also notes, as other major financial news outlets have noted, that CBS is a ripe target for being obtained themselves by Verizon.

The Verizon-CBS rumor has been long running now and it remains to be seen if Verizon wants to take that strategic dive into the network television arm of the industry. The resources of Verizon would be a significant deal within the media industry that would create some serious ripple effect.
However, for now, at least for the next few weeks the focus will remain on CBS and Viacom and if they can determine the parameters of a deal. The combination will not reshape their industry segment but it will have an impact on the way content is controlled and distributed. In that sense, this deal is significant because with the meteoric rise in streaming television programs, content rights are king. CBS would hold the keys to some important properties. Stay tuned.

(some background provided by CNBC, Recode, Forbes, CNN Money.com)

Hain Looking To Sell Protein Business Unit

In a report by CNBC regarding potential mergers, Hain Celestial is looking to sell their protein business unit. This decision is widely regarded as a precursor to the company looking to merge the rest of their business with another entity.

My experience in the food industry is what drew me to this headline coupled with my experience in writing about mergers and acquisitions over the past few years. The consolidation of Hain Foods and Celestial Seasonings (yes the “tea people”) back in the early 2000s was never a very good fit.

The business strategy, or some may argue the lack thereof, by Hain in gobbling up smaller regional organic food product labels only exacerbated the issues stemming from the Celestial merger. The company is now a hodge podge of different brands that all do not co-exist in any sort of cohesive manner.

The sale of the protein business component of the Hain Celestial portfolio will certainly aid the eventual consolidation of the company with a “bigger fish” in the consumer-packaged goods area of the food industry.

The unit for sale is the organic poultry division of the company, which according to statements in the release from the company this area is not congruent with their future strategy. The company was ahead of the trends for organic foods at one point, and after missing the earnings per share estimates set by Wall Street, they are looking to refocus their strategic objectives.

The issue, from my perspective, that Hain is running up against is the demand for pesticide free, GMO free, locally grown/sourced food products. The offerings from Hain are not locally grown, for the most part, and are not fresh either they are generally frozen or shelf stable packaged. It is a more mass produced organic offering and they have to recalibrate their business model to meet shifting consumer demand.

The two big names associated with a potential merger of Hain Celestial are Nestle and Unilever. The implications on the food industry in either case is a scenario of the “big getting bigger” and that might alter the corporate culture at Hain Celestial and prove to have a negative overall effect on their objectives. It would make sense for either of the “big fish” linked to them to consolidate Hain Celestial because it would expand the reach of either Nestle or Unilever further into the organic foods area.

The deal would also provide the larger entity with the access to technologies that Hain Celestial uses to develop future product lines within their respective core business areas. This could provide a potential competitive advantage to a company such as Nestle in their scramble for increased market share in a variety of segments within the consumer-packaged food industry.

The suitors for Hain for their poultry division could be potentially Tyson Foods who could leverage the purchase of the protein division of Hain to bolster their presence in the organic poultry area.

The other part of this situation is that Hain could be in a position where they have to sell off other divisions of the company to be folded into a suitor like Nestle or Unilever in a more seamless manner. The sale of Hain will certainly shift the landscape in the organic food segment of the industry.

Follow Up: AT&T Plans To Buy Time Warner Hit Snag

In a follow up to a recent piece on this potential merger, the plans for AT&T to obtain Time Warner for $85 billion hit a snag on Wednesday. The government regulators involved have interceded and have stated that AT&T has to sell either CNN and other related network holdings within Turner Broadcasting , or sell their ownership stake in DirecTV in order for the deal to move forward.

This consolidation of ownership or control of so much content is the issue at hand for the federal regulators. The most honest assessment of this merger is that the control of content was always going to be an issue with this proposal.

The fact remains that AT&T would have too much control over both sides of the content pipeline in their proposed arrangement, that it can have drastic impact on price controls for the consumer.

The average viewer is now streaming more content than ever before, and AT&T has a master strategic plan to become a larger player in the streaming content side of the business. Their purchase of DirecTV started that process with the introduction of a streaming service for customers of that satellite service which has garnered fairly good reviews.

The more troubling aspect of the news today was the response by AT&T who have doubled down on their stance that they will fight any changes to the deal. They are bullishly against selling any assets and are essentially going to attempt to “push through” one of the largest telecommunications mergers in American history.

The pursuit of Time Warner by AT&T has been fraught with problems from the outset. In my view, I can understand why both sides want to get something done in the way of consolidation: Time Warner is struggling to keep their vast media empire relevant in a rapidly changing landscape where print media is dying, and television is becoming increasingly competitive. AT&T would gain a tremendous amount of content for their own service via DirecTV and would be able to charge other industry players for their content.

The major issue is that the merger would make AT&T too gigantic and put their hands into “too many pots” which is an anti-trust conflict in the purest form. AT&T could charge more for cellular phone service or for the apps for the content on the smart phones. AT&T could wield enormous influence over the carriage agreements of all the current Time Warner broadcasting mediums.

The divestiture of one of these assets as identified by the federal regulators is absolutely necessary when you consider the size of Time Warner and the diversification of AT&T. The “mega mergers” of recent years have all had some sort of pothole on the way to fruition.

However, in this case, we are left to consider this question: what if AT&T sells Turner Broadcasting and the deal still does not gain approval? What if the deal never is approved by the regulators?

I am not sure at this point who would be in position to purchase Turner Broadcasting while also maintaining approval from the regulators involved. The deal may never gain approval, that is a realistic possible outcome at this point. The most likely outcome would be that Time Warner is sold off in pieces to different competitors in each of the media spaces they operate within.

This is a developing situation and where it leads could have a massive impact on the consumer in the coming months. The growth of AT&T is alarming and the argument can be made that they should be stopped, it remains to be seen if that will take place.

Gray Area: The CVS – Aetna Merger

The area of mergers and acquisitions is a key area of focus here on Frank’s Forum and that is what makes the CVS pursuit of purchasing and consolidating Aetna such significant news. The merger would be the largest transaction of 2017 (and we have had some tremendous M&A activity this year) and the largest health insurance merger in American history.

The price tag is astounding: under the terms of the current proposal CVS would obtain Aetna for $66 billion. The implications are of tremendous concern for several entities: health insurers, PBMs (Pharmacy Benefit Managers), other pharmacy retailers, drug companies, and most importantly: the consumer.

The potential combination of the second-largest retail drug chain and one of the largest health insurance providers in the nation is an alarming proposition. It has a feeling of a conflict of interest written all over it. The mainstream media and some other internet based news outlets have done an amazing job covering this emerging story and I encourage you to check out some of those related articles.

The thought process within some of the coverage in those outlets also corresponded with my first thoughts on this merger due to my understanding of the pharmaceutical network coverages through major insurance providers: higher costs for the consumer. This merger, should it clear all of the hurdles, would have tremendous implications on cost.

The consumer should have reservations because essentially this merger will translate to being given the following options: use a CVS location to fill your prescriptions for medications or use CVS mail order service for your prescriptions or end up paying a significant amount of additional money using a different option.

The retail brick and mortar locations of CVS are ubiquitous in certain areas of the country, but there will be some cases geographically where finding a CVS will be cumbersome for some consumers. That is a concern right off the top for the consumer.

The proposal clearly benefits CVS in providing them with a captive audience of consumers also has the ancillary benefit of fixing an issue most retailers are experiencing: reduced foot traffic in their stores.

Many retailers are dealing with reduced foot traffic due to a variety of factors, most notably the convenience of online shopping. This is a good segue to another driving force behind the CVS – Aetna proposed merger which is Amazon.

The online retail giant has been exploring for several weeks now whether to enter the prescription drug marketplace. Amazon has already been granted some preliminary licenses within this area, but I am not an expert on licensing requirements for prescription drug carriage across multiple states, for more information in that area I would suggest researching some of the great articles out there on the topic.

The industry experts insist that the hurdles for entry into the market are high for Amazon to attain. The ethical and procedural questions from a compliance standpoint will most certainly follow this new strategic direction for Amazon.

In addition, the recent legal changes to the policies regarding the dispensing of painkillers and opioid class narcotic drugs would be of particular scrutiny. The ramifications of Amazon carrying those types of products could potentially increase the rate of prescription drug addiction which the government is trying to curtail. Amazon has the two components needed to make this ultimately work: smart people and tons of money.

The convenience of filling your blood pressure medication from your Amazon Echo, your tablet, or your computer is enticing to some, and frightening to others. The “Amazon effect” has already impacted traditional retail channels, especially with their recent entry into the grocery channel with the purchase of Whole Foods, but where does it stop? Should Amazon be able to access prescription drug channels?

However, the case for a conflict of interest could also be made for CVS and Aetna. The merger of health insurance carriers and retail pharmacy chains also has been met with apprehension by some consumers as well. This type of arrangement essentially forces the consumer to use a particular pharmacy if they have insurance coverage from their job which is, in this case, through Aetna.

In fair balance, the other side of the argument would be made by those who have no problem with this merger by pointing out that many current arrangements are made between health insurance carriers, PBMs, and retail pharmacy chains. Some insurance carriers or their PBMs have relationships with Rite Aid, some with Walgreens, and some with CVS which create a “preferred provider” type of situation.

The implications for CVS to actually be the same company as Aetna run far deeper than just a strategic partnership. The potential for an approved bid for CVS to merge with Aetna, would have a domino effect on the retail drug business segment.

The nature of these situations and their impact on an industry segment would invariably begin the speculation of other similar potential mergers. Some examples could be Walgreens with United Health Group, Rite Aid with United or another smaller insurance carrier, and Jewel/Osco with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The ramifications of a CVS merger with Aetna could change the way health insurance and prescription drug coverage is currently set up, it would have a dramatic impact on prescription formulary coverage, and result in potentially higher costs for the consumer.

The potential for Amazon to enter the prescription drug space is a whole other topic for debate on the potential for a wide range of potential ways that those products could be misallocated or abused.

The merger potential for the second largest retail pharmacy chains with one of the largest health insurance carriers compared to the largest online retailer getting involved in dispensing medications: in the words of the rock legend, Tom Petty, “I don’t know which one is worse”.