Sunday, 24 June, 2018

AT&T wins court approval to buy Time Warner over Trump opposition

An AT&T logo AT&T, Time Warner Merger Approved by Judge
Julia Gonzales | 13 June, 2018, 23:03

The DOJ filed suit against AT&T in November of a year ago, claiming that if the deal were allowed to go through, Time Warner's Turner television networks could be withheld from competing TV carriers or licensed at such a high cost as to give AT&T (who also owns DirecTV) an unfair advantage over its competitors.

Now, the phone and pay-TV giant AT&T will be allowed to absorb the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, "Game of Thrones", coveted sports programming and other "must see" shows.

The Justice Department could appeal the ruling, although it said only that it is considering its options.

AT&T countered in court papers that the merger would allow it to compete better with Netflix, Amazon, Google and other companies that offer online video.

It's been years in the making, but the mammoth merger of AT&T and Time Warner Inc.is officially going to happen. The first example could come quickly when Comcast decides how much to bid for assets owned by 21st Century Fox, FOX 1.18% which has agreed to sell them to Walt Disney.

AT&T said it intends to close the merger by June 20.

Judge Leon's decision is sure to open the doors to more mergers involving media companies as content continues to drive the ISP and the wireless industries. Judge Richard Leon ruled the deal is legal and he did not impose any conditions on the merger. The theory seems to be that the merged company would simply forgo this revenue in a speculative hope that withholding Time Warner content from distributors would induce masses of viewers to switch to AT&T-and maybe, one day, put competitors out of business.

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahm said the government was disappointed in Leon's ruling.

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A vertical merger is when two companies who provide different or complementary offerings join forces, giving consumers access to a more comprehensive set of services, at a lower price, while still generating profits.

"Consumers may not notice the difference if this one deal goes through because they are already getting crushed in the marketplace", added Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and author of Captive Audience on the Comcast/NBCUniversal merger.

Shares of AT&T fell about 1.3 percent in after-hours trade following the decision, while Time Warner rose more than 5 percent.

The lawsuit against AT&T had sent a signal that the Trump administration's Department of Justice was taking a more hardline stance on such mega-deals.

Before the trial started, AT&T lawyers said the Time Warner deal may have been singled out for government enforcement but the judge rejected their bid to force the disclosure of White House communications that might have shed light on the matter.

It's also worth noting that President Trump has been publicly opposed to the deal since he was on the campaign trail.

After the decision, Mr Petrocelli said: "We were surprised when the case was brought and as I said in closing arguments, it's a case that never should have been brought".

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