AT&T gets to buy Time Warner in legal win over Justice Department

Disney's offer for Fox's assets is in danger as Comcast is readying to announce their counteroffer

Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill in a scene from Game of Thrones.

Sources close to the antitrust attorneys say they believe U.S. District Judge Richard Leon didn't like the case and a different judge would have ruled in their favor.

At&T and Time Warner argue they need more scale to compete with online rivals like Netflix and Amazon and with Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook and Apple which are expanding in the sector.

The deal would mean that AT&T, best known as a wireless provider, but which also owns DirecTV, would own major content creators such as HBO, CNN, TBS and Warner Bros.

"The conventional wisdom is that the government had a steep hill to climb bringing the first vertical-merger case", in over 40 years, Eric Mahr, a former director of litigation at the Department of Justice, told Business Insider.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have raised questions about the Justice Department's motivations and the White House's influence in deciding to take the case to court. It proposed that either AT&T not get Turner in the deal or that it should divest itself of DirecTV prior to acquiring Time Warner. CNBC is reporting that Comcast will try to buy Twenty-First Century Fox if AT&T buys Time Warner.

A merged AT&T-Time Warner could, in principle, refuse to supply content to some distributors in order to drive consumers to purchase its own access and content bundles, but it would not be in the merged company's financial interest to do so.

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Fox's stock jumped 7% in after-hours trading, and Disney's fell modestly amid predictions that Comcast, emboldened by the AT&T ruling, would make an aggressive bid for most of Fox's assets. The Justice Department sued to block the deal from going through in November of 2017, arguing that it would limit competition and raise prices.

AT&T originally announced the deal on October 22, 2016, just a few short weeks before Donald Trump was elected president. Between that now-pending battle and the approved merger of AT&T with Time Warner, the media landscape is undergoing a dramatic shift.

But AT&T failed to provide any evidence suggesting that the DOJ's prosecution of the merger had "discriminatory effect and discriminatory intent", Leon said in a ruling earlier in the trial. "We will closely review the Court's opinion and consider next steps in light of our commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers".

The Justice Department charged that AT&T was buying Time Warner so the carrier could charge its competitors more to carry CNN, HBO and National Basketball Association games on TNT, or maybe even cut them off altogether to make its own distribution services more popular.

"We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government's lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner", David McAtee, AT&T's general counsel said in a statement.

"That will really force AT&T and Verizon to have to work harder", the person said of the merger. "As we're seeing here, that tends to be a roll of the dice", said Stephenson.

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