Why this matters: Although the ruling is a huge setback for the DoJ, its almost two-year legal battle to try and block the Time Warner deal is a sign it's determined to challenge massive mergers.
We have reviewed the publicly available terms of the proposed Disney transaction, as well as the joint proxy statement/prospectus filed with the SEC describing the reasons for the 21CF Board of Directors' decision. And the company said it plans to close the merger, which was announced a year and a half ago, on or before June 20.
The Justice Department argued that the merger between AT&T and Time Warner would introduce unfair advantages in the marketplace.
The ruling is a major setback for the Justice Department and its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, whose decision to sue to block the deal broke with convention.
Shares of other media and telecom companies also rose, including T-Mobile US Inc, Sprint Corp, CBS Corp, Dish Network Corp, Discovery Inc and Viacom Inc. If Facebook were to buy Netflix, would that a vertical merger between a social media company or a horizontal merger between two digital providers?
The judge advised the United States regulators that their arguments were so weak that they should not even bother to appeal, although several legal experts believe the ruling is so significant it will not go unchallenged.
AT&T said the acquisition would give it access to content and advertising heft that would help it compete with online streaming firms, which have led to declines in pay-TV subscribers. He rejected testimony by distributors who said they were anxious Turner would be able to raise prices. Ultimately, the government argued this would harm competition and innovation as well as raise prices for consumers.
The judge found similar deficiencies in the government's other theory of harm to customers: that the deal would stunt development of streaming services.
The court's decision in the case could have an enormous impact on the media landscape and the fate of future corporate mega-mergers.
Announced in October 2016, the deal was quickly denounced by Donald Trump, who as a candidate and later as president has been critical of Time Warner's CNN and its coverage.
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Once president, Trump regularly called CNN "fake news" and posted on Twitter in July 2017 a doctored video of him beating up a supposed CNN journalist.
Trump's criticism prompted speculation the lawsuit was politically motivated.
Some see the decision to challenge the merger as political, something the Justice Department has fiercely denied. "It looks bad to lose", said Radia. "This is probably the end of meaningful vertical enforcement for a good long time".
The Justice Department had repeatedly suggested the judge consider forcing AT&T to divest some of Time Warner's cable channels.
AT&T and Time Warner say the combined company can leverage viewer data to make better content to sell more targeted ads, which they claim could help lower prices for consumers. The deal will unite Time Warner's TV shows and movies with AT&T's enormous distribution system, including cell phone and satellite networks. The government's star witness was Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, who used an economic model to predict that consumer cable bills could rise by $500 million annually in aggregate by 2021.
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