Court allows AT&T purchase of Time Warner

Judge set to determine fate of AT&T-Time Warner merger

Before the trial started, AT&T lawyers said the Time Warner deal may have been singled out for government enforcement but Judge Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected their bid to force the disclosure of White House communications that might have shed light on the matter.

Shares of AT&T fell about 1.3 per cent in after-hours trade following the decision, while Time Warner rose more than 5 per cent. Comcast was down 3 per cent.

While this court case is decided, the U.S. Department of Justice could appeal the ruling.

Rival cable company Comcast is now likely to go ahead with its planned attempt to woo Twenty-First Century Fox Inc away from Walt Disney Co, which said it would acquire most assets of the media company for around $50 billion previous year.

Outside of court, however, critics of the lawsuit pointed to Trump's frequent criticism of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.

Leon said the government had "taken its best shot" to oppose the merger. Short-term effects are likely to be favorable - things like a new skinny streaming service, or perks like free HBO for AT&T wireless customers - but as Time Warner continues to negotiate rates and packages with cable companies and new streaming services, the effects will become more clear.

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Investors are welcoming a federal judge's approval of AT&T's $85 billion takeover of Time Warner.

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. First floated in October 2016, the deal also brought fire from then-candidate Donald Trump, who promised to kill it "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few".

The ruling is a stinging defeat for the Justice Department. However, AT&T has argued that making such a deal would be necessary to compete against other tech companies. And in order to stay competitive, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson said during the trial that it needed a big deal to survive.

The companies' main economist, Dennis Carlton from the University of Chicago, refuted Shapiro's model as overly complicated and rejected his conclusions. In fact, he suggested, consumers could end up paying less after a merger - maybe even $500 million less annually.

"This is a disappointing result, and we expect the government will appeal", Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer said.

AT&T said it intends to close the merger by June 20. That leverage would allow AT&T to raise prices for Time Warner content, with those costs being passed on to consumers, according to the Justice Department. A loss for AT&T and Time Warner could have signaled a new era of government scrutiny over so-called "vertical mergers" and could have halted attempts by companies like Disney, Fox and Comcast to announce their own megadeals.

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