AT&T on Tuesday won the right to buy Time Warner and its deep reservoir of programming for $85 billion. But Comcast has said it's prepped to top Disney's bid for the 21CF assets - and it's widely expected that Comcast will pull the trigger now that the AT&T-Time Warner merger has the go-ahead.
The merger was approved without any conditions, a stunning rebuke of the government's case.
AT&T argued that the merger will help customers without harming AT&T's business rivals, and that the combined company wouldn't have enough market power to raise antitrust concerns.
AT&T Inc, which owns DirecTV, awaits a court ruling on Tuesday that will determine if it can buy Time Warner Inc, a decision that could prompt a cascade of pay TV companies buying television and movie makers and the first big test of the Trump administration's antitrust teams.
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.
As a candidate for president, Trump vowed to block the merger, stating it would concentrate too much power in one company.
The ruling is a stinging defeat for the Justice Department. The companies' CEOs, AT&T's Randall Stephenson and Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner Inc., testified in support of the deal. In recent decades, the government's antitrust enforcement actions have focused on deals where one company threatened to dominate too much of a specific industry.
As president, Trump has called the merger "not good for the country" and said he believed it would push pay-TV prices higher. The combination would push technology forward and give consumers more choices, AT&T has promised. The company said in a statement that it plans to complete the takeover on or before June 20. 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.
"This is a disappointing result, and we expect the government will appeal", Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer said.
Judge Richard Leon said the U.S. government failed to meet the burden of proof that the tie up between the largest United States pay TV operator and media entertainment giant Time Warner would harm competition.
AT&T and Time Warner said they need to combine in order to better compete with Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Google (GOOG), companies that are already powerhouses in the content game.
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