Judge clears AT&T takeover of Time Warner

Brian Roberts

CREDIT Mark Lennihan AP REX Shutterstock

Disney's Iger has also said Fox is key to its plans for Hulu, which it would gain control of if it acquired Fox.

For AT&T, the ruling marks a huge win in its bid to transform itself into a media powerhouse. It's already purchased satellite TV provider DirecTV for almost $49 billion.

Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said at a hearing that he has found, after a six-week trial, that the deal does not violate antitrust law and can proceed.

"We are disappointed in the ruling", Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said in a statement shortly after the ruling. Between that now-pending battle and the approved merger of AT&T with Time Warner, the media landscape is undergoing a dramatic shift. "Small wonder it had to go to trial!" For example, Comcast is reportedly eager to gobble up some of 21st Century Fox's assets.

AT&T, for its part, insists that legacy media companies can't compete with the rising titans of Amazon and Netflix unless they're allowed to bring content creation and distribution under the same roof.

AT&T's wooing of Time Warner has been politically complicated from the outset. It allows AT&T, a phone and pay-TV giant, to absorb the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, "Game of Thrones", coveted sports programming and other "must-see" shows. For consumers, that may mean higher prices for services they buy from AT&T and Time Warner now, all in the name of competition. In fact, CNNMoney reported that AT&T-Time Warner's counsel Daniel Petrocelli made the argument that traditional media orgs have already been left behind in the digital revolution.

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"Industry trend lines point to increased video consumption in the future - and AT&T aims to ride those tailwinds".

Leon announced his decision after the stock market closed on Tuesday, and Comcast shares slumped 4 percent in after-market trading on fears that it would overpay for Fox. It is also being reported by Variety that AT&T Watch will be offered to AT&T Wireless customers for free. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson also said previous year, "You shouldn't expect that we would sell something larger [than CNN] to get the deal done". "The proposed merger would result in fewer innovative offerings and higher bills for American families". He said the company needed to take a giant leap into the content business.

"We knew we had to have scale", he said, according to Variety.

Trump, a frequent detractor of Time Warner's CNN and its coverage, denounced the deal when it was announced in October 2016. The government has argued that Trump did not communicate with antitrust officials over the deal and that their choice to fight the merger was not influenced by the White House.

It's unusual for the Justice Department to argue that a vertical merger of two companies that aren't direct competitors would limit competition, but the effect that the merger will have on the telecoms and entertainment industry is significant. In conclusion, he said, "the government has failed to meet its burden of proof".

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