Turner chief tells judge there's no incentive to withhold networks from rival distributors

John Martin CEO Turner (Turner)
Turner CEO John Martin (Turner)

A big part of the Justice Department’s case against AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner is AT&T possibly withholding programming from rivals. But Turner CEO John Martin says it isn’t so.

During the trial Wednesday, Martin was called to the stand and testified that Turner would have no incentive to withhold channels like CNN, TBS and TNT from AT&T’s rival pay-TV distributors like Comcast and Dish Network.

“I would like every distributor to carry every network I have and carry it at 100 percent penetration,” Martin said according to Reuters.

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In a pretrial brief filing, AT&T said that Turner would lose more than it would gain by holding its content back from other distributors.

AT&T said the DOJ’s case is now based on the theory that Turner will now be more likely to drive harder bargains with rival distributors. But AT&T argued that Turner will not be able to tolerate withholding content from any distributors and that the merger is more about cost synergies that will result make AT&T and Time Warner more competitive.

The DOJ has been asking for viewership metrics on Turner networks in an effort to determine how “must-have” they are for television distributors.

Last week, Judge Richard Leon indicated that an as-yet-unnamed Google executive may need to be added to the witness list. According to CNN, that executive gave a deposition explaining why Google’s virtual MVPD YouTube TV recently added Turner’s channels including TBS, TNT and CNN.

The DOJ is arguing that YouTube TV adding Turner’s channels after not having them in its initial product is proof that Time Warner content is valuable to distributors and could provide AT&T with leverage over its rivals. According to Variety, Daniel Petrocelli, the lead counsel for AT&T-Time Warner, acknowledged the concerns of AT&T’s rivals but warned that any idea that AT&T would withhold Time Warner content from other distributors is only speculation at this point.

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