Disney pitched Time Warner merger in 2016

(Image courtesy the Walt Disney Company, Graphic by The Desk)

The key executive at what was then Time Warner was approached by his colleague at the Walt Disney Company about a possible merger in late 2016, just weeks before Time Warner agreed to an acquisition by telecom giant AT&T, according to a new report.

On Monday, the New York Times revealed key details of a telephone call between then-Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes was approached by Disney chief executive Robert Iger about a merger between the two companies, which would have brought together iconic cartoon characters Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny along with the content catalog held by each studio. It also would have put the ABC broadcast network and premium cable channels HBO and Cinemax under a single roof.

Bewkes turned Iger down, saying something else was already in the works, according to a background account revealed by the Times. The deal that was in play involved AT&T acquiring Time Warner — now WarnerMedia — for $85 billion the following year at the conclusion of a lengthy federal lawsuit that stemmed from an anti-trust review of the deal.

Earlier this month, AT&T agreed to spin off WarnerMedia into a separate company that is expected to merge with Discovery Communications at a valuation of around $43 billion. That deal is likely to close in the middle of next year.

The Times goes on to say that Iger was not dissuaded by the call with his counterpart at Time Warner. Instead, he set his sights on a bigger target: The studio and content library of 21st Century Fox. He called Rupert Murdoch, the founder and chief executive of the Fox empire at the time, a call that would set off rounds of negotiations that ultimately led Disney to spend nearly $72 billion acquiring certain Fox assets, including three domestic cable networks and dozens of international television channels.