June 12, 2018
A federal judge June 12 gave the green light to AT&T Inc.’s proposed merger with Time Warner Inc., rejecting a government argument that such a union would stifle competition and hurt pay-TV consumers by costing them more money to stream movies and TV shows.
The decision, by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, brings to an end the biggest antitrust trial in years. The $85 billion merger allows AT&T to absorb the owner of the Warner Bros. movie studio, CNN and HBO, along with lucrative sports programming and such hot programs as HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
The U.S. Department of Justice could decide to appeal the verdict, but has not indicated whether it intends to do so.
The ruling could have a significant impact on future acquisitions and mergers.
“Now that a federal judge has approved AT&T’s $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, other companies are likely to rush to consolidate, the Washington Post observed. “The ruling signaled that federal regulators will have a hard time stopping companies from getting bigger by gobbling up rivals and the programming they own. Even if a company doesn’t need to get bigger right away, it might need to do so to prevent a competitor from overshadowing it.
“For starters, expect Comcast to make a bid for Fox’s entertainment business as early as Wednesday. Disney has made a $52.4 billion all-stock offer for the bulk of 21st Century Fox … Comcast has promised to top that. AT&T’s favorable ruling would seem to clear any regulatory hesitation.”
AT&T, the country’s second-biggest wireless carrier, announced its intent to buy Time Warner in October 2016. The telecom said the purchase would allow it to diversify its revenues and become a media powerhouse that could bundle entertainment with mobile service. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has said the deal would help AT&T compete against tech giants such as Netflix and Amazon, which are investing more in original content.
No assets will be divested in order to complete the merger, AT&T attorney Daniel Petrocelli told reporters after the decision. Judge Leon, in a 172-page decision, said the government failed to meet its burden to establish that the deal was likely to substantially lessen competition.