Sunday, 19 August, 2018

Judge rules AT&T can purchase Time Warner

Judge set to determine fate of AT&T-Time Warner merger Modal Trigger Getty Images
Elsie Buchanan | 13 June, 2018, 02:02

Aetna, which is about to be acquired by CVS Health in a $68 billion deal, had its shares jump 3.5 percent, to $187.00.

The trial was closely watched as the fate of the deal could have had ripple effects on future deals and everyone from media giants to streaming service providers.

A federal judge on Tuesday gave a ringing endorsement to AT&T Inc's planned acquisition of Time Warner Inc without any conditions, opening the door for companies such as Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc to pursue deals to buy creators of media content.

When the trial ended, Judge Leon suggested the parties consider some remedies both could deal with depending on how he ruled.

If Judge Leon approves the deal, it is expected to close before the end of the month. In addition, T-Mobile and Sprint are direct competitors, so their merger is perhaps more likely to be seen as anti-competitive than a union of AT&T and Time Warner. He issued his decision in a closed-door room with reporters, and reportedly urged the government not to seek a stay.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon rejected the government's argument that the AT&T-Time Warner combination would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars more to stream TV and movies.

AT&T and Time Warner's lead lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, said outside court that the companies were gratified and relieved.

The lawsuit against AT&T had cast a pall over that activity, as a sign that the Department of Justice, under new Trump appointees, was taking a more hard line stance to mega-deals. "The proposed merger would result in fewer innovative offerings and higher bills for American families".

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"We would lose a lot of subs", Schlichting said, during an hour and a half of testimonies at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

In making its case, the US government argued that the merger of AT&T could harm consumers in a number of ways.

Rival cable company Comcast is now likely to go ahead with its planned attempt to woo Fox away from Walt Disney Co, which said it would acquire most assets of the media company for around $50 billion a year ago. AT&T's chief executive officer, Randall Stephenson, said the hiring had been "a big mistake".

CNN is owned by Time Warner.

The ruling could also prompt a cascade of pay TV companies buying television and movie makers, with Comcast Corp's bid for some Twenty-First Century Fox Inc assets potentially the first out of the gate.

Some critics of President Trump have questioned whether the case was brought as political payback against Time Warner's CNN for unfavorable coverage of President Trump, who often called the cable news channel "fake news".

The government's case hinged on an economic model produced by Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, who predicted an annual price increase to consumers of at least $285 million. In order for them to compete against these giants, Time Warner needs AT&T's distribution network of broadband and wireless customers. In fact, sometimes a merger can help competition and consumer choice, as is more often the case with vertical mergers. Trump weighed in again after the justice department filed its suit: "Personally, I've always felt that that was a deal that's not good for the country".

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