The US government totally just summoned the wrong Time Warner to testify about the AT&T deal

This is absolutely, 100% not the company AT&T is trying to buy.
This is absolutely, 100% not the company AT&T is trying to buy.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Lott
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Time Warner Cable’s former chief executive probably had a good laugh yesterday when he saw he was being called before the US Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on a pending $85 billion deal with AT&T.

That deal is with an entirely different company, Time Warner.

The Senate’s release mistakenly named Robert Marcus, former CEO of Time Warner Cable, instead of Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.

Time Warner is a media company that owns HBO, Warner Bros., and Turner, among other brands. Time Warner Cable is a completely separate company—a New York-based cable and broadband provider that was recently acquired by Charter Communications.

“Both Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, and Robert Marcus, the CEO of Time Warner, will testify,” the release said, according to the Wall Street Journal. Marcus reportedly knew nothing of the hearing until the Journal’s story was published.

To make matters worse, Time Warner executives suspect that politicians have pushed back on the AT&T deal in part because they mixed up Time Warner with the much-maligned Time Warner Cable, the publication reported.

AT&T and Time Warner were clearly worried something like this would happen. After announcing the deal over the weekend, AT&T filed a special statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Oct. 24 to clarify that it was Time Warner it was interested in buying, and not the much maligned Time Warner Cable.

“AT&T has announced its intention to acquire Time Warner Inc…. Time Warner Inc. should not be confused with Time Warner Cable, which is a distinct, independent company owned by Charter Communications,” said the filing, entitled “AT&T Statement on TWX-TWC Confusion,” in a reference to the company’s stock tickers.

Yet confusion persisted, at least in the country’s governing body.

To be fair, the names are confusing. Time Warner spun off its cable business, Time Warner Cable, in 2008, separated from AOL the following year, parted with Warner Music more than a decade ago, and split off its print arm Time Inc. a few years back. Now it’s selling itself to AT&T, if US regulators allow the deal to go through.

But through all that, for some unfathomable reason, it held onto its name.

A relic of a 1990 merger between Time Inc. and Warner Communications, the name once basked in the glow of its esteemed media and entertainment brands—Time magazine, HBO, and Warner Bros. Entertainment. But now the name is more associated with the years of empty promises, rate hikes, and abysmal customer-service that turned Time Warner Cable into one of the most-loathed companies in the US. That reputation has completely overshadowed Time Warner’s legacy.

Charter Communications promptly scrapped the Time Warner Cable name after it completed its acquisition in May. The cable and broadband service will only be known as Spectrum, once the name—inherited from its new Connecticut-based parent company—is fully phased in.

If the deal with AT&T closes, Time Warner might follow suit and finally drop its confusing name. Soon, all that may be left of the name are customers’ bitter memories of the miserable cable company that once was.