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13 June 2018, 01:35 | Joann Bryant
AT&T-Time Warner Decision: Either Way, Media Is Ailing
Still, at least one company, Comcast, the largest US cable provider, had been waiting for the court decision before making any large M&A moves in media, sources have said.
"The impact from this decision will have wide reaching ramifications across the telecommunications, media, and tech industry for decades to come", said GBH Insights analyst Dan Ives.
"This deal will accelerate content and streaming initiatives between Time Warner properties and AT&T and be a major shot across the bow to other cable and wireless players with all these assets under one hood", he said. The Justice Department could decide to appeal the ruling, however.
AT&T in a six-week trial argued that the purchase of Time Warner would allow it to gain information about viewers needed to target digital advertising, much like Facebook and Alphabet's Google already do.
In his decision, Leon weighed in on a case that carried political overtones, scrambled typical ideological alignments and triggered close attention from corporate executives beyond media.
During the trial, the judge heard from dozens of witnesses, including AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes.
On November 20, 2017 the Justice Department sued to stop the deal, saying the merger would violate antitrust law because it would harm competition and consumers. That's not to say that vertical mergers get through regulatory approval free and clear - the FTC has fought 22 vertical mergers since 2000 - but they receive less scrutiny than horizontal mergers. The "drop dead" deadline for completing the merger is June 21.
The Justice Department had repeatedly suggested the judge consider forcing AT&T to divest some of Time Warner's cable channels. The ruling could open the floodgates to deal making in the fast-changing entertainment and video-content worlds.
Rival cable company Comcast is now likely to go ahead with its planned attempt to woo Twenty-First Century Fox Inc away from Walt Disney Co, which said it would acquire most assets of the media company for around $50 billion a year ago.
Those comments and his repeated criticism of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner's unit Turner Broadcasting, raised speculation that Trump had pushed Delrahim and the Justice Department to block the deal. Trump had pledged to block the deal when he was campaigning for president.
"We are disappointed that the court missed an opportunity to rein in the First Amendment-crushing mass media consolidation trend, which puts too much media power in the hands of too few", Manning said in a statement. 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.
AT&T's wooing of Time Warner has been politically complicated from the outset. The companies rejected both options.
The government estimated costs to industry rivals, such as Charter Communications Inc, would increase by US$580 million a year if AT&T owned Time Warner.
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