Fox bid for Time Warner sparks content merger race

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Even though Rupert Murdoch’s $76 billion bid for rival media giant Time Warner Inc. has been rejected, that doesn’t mean how you watch TV shows and movies will stop changing any time soon.

The cash-and-stock bid by Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. was partly meant to counter consolidation among TV distributors like Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV.;

The more must-have channels like HBO and Fox News Channel are assembled under one company, the stronger that company’s bargaining position in demanding licensing fees from the TV distributors, no matter how big they get.

Time Warner also owns TV channels CNN, TNT and TBS, along with the Warner Bros. movie studio, which includes Batman, Superman and Harry Potter. Fox owns the 20th Century Fox movie studio, the Fox broadcast network and such TV channels as Fox News and FX.

Much of the value is in the television channels because of the ever-increasing fees they are able to command from cable and satellite TV providers. Disputes over such fees have led to temporary blackouts of popular channels from various systems.

The Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV; deals are both undergoing regulatory review. In disclosing the rejected bid Wednesday, Time Warner and Fox indicated that their talks were over, but analysts don’t expect Murdoch to give up. The offer was worth about $86.30 a share based on Tuesday’s closing price.

If talks resume and a takeover succeeds, analysts see some possible consumer benefits.

- TV EVERYWHERE COULD GET A PUSH

A combination could accelerate the industry’s “TV Everywhere” push, in which traditional media companies make their channels available over the Internet as part of a TV subscription. It’s the pay TV industry’s answer to the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon.

The hang-up in making those channels available online has partly been licensing deals with content producers. A unified company with an even larger suite of channels from TBS to FX could make such deals standard industrywide. Apps modeled after Time Warner’s successful HBO Go could also be applied to more networks.

“A player with more scale would be able to work on that and make digital content offering more user-friendly to the consumer,” Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente said.

- MOVIE STUDIOS COULD SHORTEN THEATER EXCLUSIVITY

With a North American box office market share of around 30 percent, a combined Warner Bros.-20th Century Fox movie studio could push movie theater companies to shorten the time between when a movie hits theaters and when it’s available for sale or rental through digital outlets like iTunes.

A shortened window helps studios spend less money on marketing because they wouldn’t have to advertise each time a movie becomes available on a different platform. Theater companies have pushed back, as earlier digital release times could cut into ticket sales.

“They would have a lot of ability to experiment with new release patterns for movies,” FBR Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett said.

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