Judge Approves AT&T-Time Warner Merger

The $85 Billion Merge is one of the Biggest Media Deals Ever
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the government failed to meet its burden of proof in its antitrust suit against the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

Leon said the government had “taken its best shot” to oppose the merger. But, he added, “the government’s evidence is too thin a reed for this court to rely on.”

The judge made his remarks to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended.

Leon also said it would be harmful for him to put a temporary stay on the merger while the government appeals his decision, if it does so.

The ruling blesses the $85 billion merger, one of the biggest media deals ever. It allows AT&T, a phone and pay-TV giant, to absorb the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, “Game of Thrones,” coveted sports programming and other “must-see” shows.

The “drop dead” deadline for the merger to be completed is June 21. If not completed by then, either company could walk away, and AT&T would have to pay a $500 million breakup fee.

Now that a federal judge has approved AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner, other companies are likely to rush to consolidate.

Tuesday’s ruling signaled that federal regulators will have a hard time stopping companies from getting bigger by gobbling up rivals and the programming they own. Even if a company doesn’t need to get bigger right away, it might need to do so to prevent a competitor from overshadowing it.

For starters, expect Comcast to make a bid for Fox’s entertainment business as early as Wednesday.

Disney has made a $52.4 billion all-stock offer for the bulk of Twenty-First Century Fox, including the studios behind the “Avatar” movies, “The Simpsons” and “Modern Family.” Comcast has promised to top that. AT&T’s favorable ruling would seem to clear any regulatory hesitation.

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