As AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) seek government approval for their $85 billion megadeal, some of their most important negotiations may take place in private conversations with rival executives instead of in the nation’s capital.

The merger offers competitors and partners a rare opportunity to cut more favorable deals with both companies in exchange for their public endorsement, which can be valuable in getting regulators to sign off. Meanwhile, other pay-TV providers and programmers will lobby to block the deal or place limits on an empire that would own many of the movies and shows it delivers to wireless, internet and video subscribers.

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