AT&T-Time Warner Decision: Either Way, Media Is Ailing

Posted June 13, 2018

"The court has spoken", U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said. The Judge has put no conditions on the merger.

The $85 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner was approved Tuesday. He has indeed ruled in favor of the merger, despite government opposition. The "drop dead" deadline for completing the merger is June 21.

The judge made his remarks to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended. With no phones or computers allowed into the courtroom, and attendees required to stay until after the judge had left the courtroom, the public was left in the dark for almost 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon as they awaited the decision. But the overall landscape complicates the decision a great deal. Verizon has been courting CBS, prompting CBS to resist the overtures of Viacom. CNBC is reporting that Comcast will try to buy Twenty-First Century Fox if AT&T buys Time Warner. The ruling comes one day after the repeal of net neutrality, meaning that AT&T now has more freedom to prioritize the delivery of select content on its network.

Leon described part of the government's case as "gossamer thin", saying that during the trial the Justice Department's expert witness declined to back some of the government's own theories. In fact, CNNMoney reported that AT&T-Time Warner's counsel Daniel Petrocelli made the argument that traditional media orgs have already been left behind in the digital revolution.

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said the decision was regrettable. It is, he said then, "a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in hands of too few".

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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. "The immediate fallout of this decision is likely to be an attempt by Comcast to outbid Disney for the media content owned by Fox".

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. The merged companies could withhold programming from competitors, pressuring consumers to switch to AT&T services.

The AT&T and Time Warner merger has officially been approved. The average cable bundle, by comparison, costs $104 per month. In order for them to compete against these giants, Time Warner needs AT&T's distribution network of broadband and wireless customers.

AT&T says it plans to move forward with the deal in less than a week, leaving a small window of time for the justice department to file an appeal. It could also set in motion a series of mega deals across industries.

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.

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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. If Facebook were to buy Netflix, would that a vertical merger between a social media company or a horizontal merger between two digital providers?

Presidential politics clouded the merger from nearly the moment it was announced.

Time Warner owns CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. "It's illogical. It's why we did the deal".

There are only a handful of companies in this space, and they are some of the most powerful companies in the world.

Shares of AT&T dropped - and stock shot up - after a judge's decision to allow the telco's $85 billion takeover of the media conglomerate to proceed.

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