Judge approves AT&T-Time Warner merger opposed by Trump

Judge approves AT&T-Time Warner merger opposed by Trump

AT&T on Tuesday won the right to buy Time Warner and its deep reservoir of programming for $85 billion.

The Justice Department, which may still appeal the decision, sued the companies in November, arguing that the tie-up could be used to suppress competition and raise prices for consumers. However, AT&T has argued that making such a deal would be necessary to compete against other tech companies.

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.

The proposed acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T was what's known as a "vertical merger", the integration of two companies in different areas of the economy.

In after-market trading following the ruling, shares of Time Warner rose almost 5 percent and AT&T shares fell 1.6 percent. CNBC reports that Comcast will immediately move forward with its all-cash offer for 21st Century Fox assets if the judge approves the deal. The combined company would have a library that includes HBO's hit Game of Thrones and channels like CNN, along with vast distribution reach through wireless and satellite television services across the country.

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In a blow to the Justice Department, AT&T's planned acquisition of Time Warner Inc received a nod from a federal judge on Tuesday without any conditions, opening the door for companies such as Comcast Corp, and Verizon Communications Inc to pursue deals to buy creators of media content. A loss for AT&T and Time Warner could have signaled a new era of government scrutiny over so-called "vertical mergers" and could have halted attempts by companies like Disney, Fox and Comcast to announce their own megadeals.

The lawyer added that the merger would be completed no later than June 20 of this year.

Leon described part of the government's case as "gossamer thin", saying that during the trial the Justice Department's expert witness declined to back some of the government's own theories. He rejected the government's argument that it would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars more to stream TV and movies.

With control over a significant portion of the content, AT&T is now in a good place to keep prices high among rivals and prevent streaming TV services from offering cut-price cable alternatives. And in order to stay competitive, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson said during the trial that it needed a big deal to survive. First floated in October 2016, the deal also brought fire from then-candidate Donald Trump, who promised to kill it "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few".

"The judge's sweeping rejection of the government's case doesn't surprise us at all", AT&T attorney Daniel Petrocelli told reporters outside of the courthouse shortly after the decision was issued. AT&T wasn't on board, saying, "Divestitures here would destroy the very consumer value this merger is created to unlock".

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