M&A gates open with judge's blessing on AT&T-Time Warner merger

AT&T-Time Warner Decision: Either Way, Media Is Ailing

Moments after a federal judge cleared AT&T's $85 billion bid for Time Warner Tuesday, acquisition targets saw their stocks trade sharply upwards after hours, hinting at a merger-friendly playing field. The purchase of Time Warner would give AT&T the premium television content it needed to make its bundle of wireless, television and broadband services more attractive to customers. But if the ruling falls in the Justice Department's favor, a new era of government scrutiny over these types of mergers could freeze further consolidation in the industry.

AT&T, in turn, said it needs Time Warner to have a fighting chance against tech giants like Google and Facebook.

"The government here has taken its best shot to oppose this merger", Leon said, speaking to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended.

Leon said the government failed to prove that the merger would lead to higher prices and other ham to consumers.

"We want people engaged with their mobile devices all day watching movies and video", Stephenson said in April during the trial.

AT&T, a content distributor, first announced a deal in October 2016 that would let it acquire Time Warner, a content creator that counts HBO, Warner Bros. and cable network giant Turner Broadcasting among its biggest assets. The companies then entered into discussions with the DOJ past year and rumors surfaced that the agency had suggested some divestitures in order for AT&T to avoid an antitrust lawsuit. The "drop dead" deadline for completing the merger is June 21. President Donald Trump, while still a candidate, said he would block the deal "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few".

Leon said the evidence and testimony provided by the government were faulty and that it never proved the merged entity would have increased leverage over its competitors.

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"We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner", he said in the statement. Comcast and Verizon are also jockeying for position in the new landscape.

Analysts say the judge's go-ahead will likely rewrite the rules on how courts apply antitrust laws, paving the way for a number of other potential sales involving names like Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox and several other content creation and distribution companies.

"The decision will very much send a signal as to what to expect from the DOJ in the future", Napolitano told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo on "Mornings with Maria".

The decision comes despite criticism from Trump, a frequent detractor of Time Warner's CNN and its coverage. And Leon's decision is likely to trigger a wave of new mergers, as many executives were waiting to for the outcome of AT&T's bid before pushing forward with their desired deals.

The judge rejected the government's argument that the merger would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars more to stream TV and movies.

The deal cost AT&T's top lobbyist, Bob Quinn, his job in May after it became public that AT&T had paid Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen $600,000 for advice on winning approval.