Court approves merger of AT&T and Time Warner

The media world is braced

It will bring together AT&T's significant wireless, satellite television and internet business with Time Warner's media properties, which include HBO and CNN.

But Judge Richard Leon rejected those arguments, approving the deal without conditions.

The DOJ filed suit against AT&T in November of past year, claiming that if the deal were allowed to go through, Time Warner's Turner television networks could be withheld from competing TV carriers or licensed at such a high cost as to give AT&T (who also owns DirecTV) an unfair advantage over its competitors.

At the heart of the DOJ's complaint is an assumption that the merged entity would use its market power to raise the price of content now owned by Time Warner, or threaten to withhold programming, including hit shows such as Game of Thrones and NCAA March Madness.

Judge Leon also said it would be "unjust" for the Justice Department to seek to put a hold on the deal pending an appeal.

For instance, AT&T could charge other content providers (including Verizon, which owns HuffPost's parent company, Oath) artificially high prices to air the cable channels it acquired through Time Warner. Most notably, Disney's ongoing offer to buy 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion, which Comcast is expected to compete against.

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 Inc and Google already do.

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Shares in entertainment companies and potential targets of new deals because of Leon's decision rose sharply - CBS shot up about 5 percent and Fox jumped 7 percent in after-market trading on hopes of a bidding war for it between Comcast and Disney.

The ruling is a major setback for the Justice Department and its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, whose decision to sue to block the deal broke with convention. The transition to streaming services, away from traditional cable, is one that's costing pay TV companies millions of subscribers and billions in revenue every year.

AT&T-Time Warner is considered a vertical merger, as AT&T is a content distributor and Time Warner is a content creator. But looking beyond today, the merger could have a strong effect on future deals.

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. "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", Delrahm added in a statement.

Announced in October 2016, it was seized on by then presidential candidate Donald Trump as the sort pf deal his administration would block.

Originally it was said that AT&T had planned to launch AT&T Watch no matter what happens with the current Time Warner DOJ court case. "As we're seeing here, that tends to be a roll of the dice", said Stephenson.

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