Time Warner sells Atlanta TV station for $70M to Meredith as AT&T merger looms

Time Warner

Time Warner is selling its Atlanta broadcast TV station WPCH for $70 million in a possible bid to avoid FCC scrutiny of its pending merger with AT&T.

According to an FCC filing spotted by TVNewsCheck, broadcast group Meredith is buying the station. As the report points out, Meredith has been operating the station through an agreement with Turner since 2011.

Time Warner’s decision to sell off WPCH could further improve AT&T’s chances of skipping a rigorous FCC public-interest review of the Time Warner acquisition. When the merger was announced in October last year, many speculated that the deal could avoid an FCC review as long as Time Warner divested its FCC broadcast license held by Turner in Atlanta.

In an SEC filing from January, AT&T said that Time Warner won’t have to transfer any of its FCC licenses following the completion of the acquisition. Licenses covering Time Warner businesses including HBO and CNN cannot be transferred to AT&T without the FCC’s consent. By AT&T signaling that no license transfer will have to take place, it indicated that the companies can bypass the FCC’s public-interest review altogether. That would mean the companies need only the Justice Department’s nod of approval to clear regulatory reviews.

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The potential for skipping an FCC review represents a stark turnaround from comments AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made last year, when he told The Wall Street Journal that the chances of getting around the FCC were slim. “Avoiding any kind of regulatory review is always a benefit,” Stephenson told the Journal. “But we aren’t naive. We aren’t thinking that that won’t happen.”

In a letter sent this week to a group of Democratic senators, Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes reiterated that the two companies anticipated not needing FCC approval for their merger.

“Although our plans our subject to change, we currently anticipate that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T to maintain its business operations. Almost all of Time Warner’s existing licenses are used only for internal communications anyway; they do not provide FCC-regulated services to the public,” the companies wrote.