AT&T Cleared by Judge to Buy Time Warner, Create Media Giant
AT&T Cleared by Judge to Buy Time Warner, Create Media Giant
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13 June, 2018, 01:17
AT&T's politically charged takeover of Time Warner was approved by a United States judge on Tuesday in a blow to the Trump administration which had fought hard to have the deal scrapped.
In court the justice department argued an integrated company would use its size to raise prices and that it was problematic for one company to own a top pay-TV distributor, AT&T's DirecTV, as well as Time Warner, a company that makes content distributed by DirecTV's rivals.
The judge said that the Department of Justice did not sufficiently meet its burden of proving that the deal would allow AT&T to harm rival TV providers. AT&T is known to most consumers as a telecom company, offering cable, internet and phone services, but this is just the latest in a line of mergers from such companies trying to break into the media landscape. Looming in the background of the deal has been Trump's long-running feud with Time Warner's CNN, which he has often derided as "failing" and a purveyor of "fake news".
"The government here has taken its best shot to oppose this merger", Leon said, speaking to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended. Short-term effects are likely to be favorable - things like a new skinny streaming service, or perks like free HBO for AT&T wireless customers - but as Time Warner continues to negotiate rates and packages with cable companies and new streaming services, the effects will become more clear.
Now the judge overseeing the case has ruled that AT&T can merge with Time Warner. CNBC is reporting that Comcast will try to buy Twenty-First Century Fox if AT&T buys Time Warner. And in order to stay competitive, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson said during the trial that it needed a big deal to survive.
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The ruling is a stinging defeat for the Justice Department. In recent decades, the government's antitrust enforcement actions have focused on deals where one company threatened to dominate too much of a specific industry. Announced in October 2016, it was seized on by then presidential candidate Donald Trump as the sort pf deal his administration would block.
On the campaign trail Trump argued that a combined AT&T/Time Warner was "too much concentration of power in the hands of too few".
The government's case hinged on an economic model produced by Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, who predicted an annual price increase to consumers of at least $285 million. In fact, he suggested, consumers could end up paying less after a merger - maybe even $500 million less annually.
AT&T and Time Warner said they need to combine in order to better compete with Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Google (GOOG), companies that are already powerhouses in the content game.
"We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government's lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner", said David McAtee, AT&T General Counsel. "We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative".
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