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Media titans weigh in on AT&T-Time Warner merger

The media merger of the decade
The media merger of the decade

It’s the elephant in the room that Wall Street Journal reporters couldn’t help but ask about: The AT&T and Time Warner deal.

The deal, which would be one of the biggest media mergers ever, is subject to a review by government regulators. And it was the most frequently asked question of media and techies onstage at the annual WSJ Digital Conference in Laguna Beach.

While Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders may have concerns about AT&T’s(T, Tech30) $85 billion bid to buy Time Warner(TWX), AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn’t seem fazed.

When asked about it on Tuesday, Stephenson said he’s “not surprised.”

“They’re uninformed comments,” said Stephenson, who took the stage on Tuesday alongside Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who was added to the lineup after news broke on Saturday evening of the deal.

“I think the markets are too pessimistic,” he said. “I feel pretty good about this deal.”

Related: Goldman Sachs misses out on AT&T/Time Warner deal

Reed Hastings, cofounder and CEO of Netflix(NFLX, Tech30), gave a nod of conditional approval when asked about it on Monday evening: “As long as HBO’s bits and Netflix’s bits are treated the same, that would be the starting place.”

In 2014, Hastings and Netflix opposed the proposed mega-merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast(CCV), filing a petition with the FCC.

“We really want to make sure that, to the consumer, [the deal] doesn’t give an unfair advantage to HBO over Netflix,” he said Tuesday. “If it’s open competition, we love that.” HBO is part of Time Warner, which is CNN’s parent company.

Hastings wouldn’t go so far as to state he was in favor of the deal but stated that “the key thing is net neutrality, which has not been AT&T’s favorite topic … but if they got there like Charter did, then good things might happen.”

Related: AT&T-Time Warner merger is not AOL 2.0

“I think Netflix and Amazon alone are going to spend $10 billion on content this year,” said Nelson Peltz, founding partner of activist hedge fund Trian Fund Management. “It was very smart of Time Warner to do what they did, I think the entire content business is changing. I think the moats basically have been destroyed … It’s a big man’s game. It takes a lot of capital.”

HBO CEO Richard Plepler touted his distribution deal with AT&T as futuristic.

“It’s wireless, it’s broadband, it’s satellite and we don’t care how they sell it,” he said. “It’s a bit of a template for what you’re going to see going forward.”

CNNMoney (Laguna Beach) First published October 25, 2016: 11:53 PM ET

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