A federal judge ruled Tuesday that AT&T Inc. can proceed with its blockbuster acquisition of Time Warner Inc., without any conditions, marking a historic defeat for the Justice Department that could rewrite the media landscape and set the stage for other deals.
The Wall Street Journal reports U.S. District Judge Richard Leon told a packed courtroom that the department hadn’t proved its case that the deal would suppress competition in the pay-TV industry.
At one point waving his 172-page opinion (Read It Here) in the air, Judge Leon declared: “The court has now spoken and the defendants have won.”
The moment provided a final act of drama in a case that carried the highest stakes for the two companies, their leaders and the Trump administration’s antitrust enforcement. President Donald Trump was unusually direct in opposing the deal, both before and after taking office, giving the case an unusual political cast.
The decision, in one of the biggest antitrust cases in decades, is a milestone victory for AT&T as it looks to reposition itself in a rapidly evolving media landscape. Its deal for Time Warner, now valued at roughly $80 billion, has been pending since October 2016.
|Graphic from The Wall Street Journal|
The ruling could set off a round of media mergers. Other companies have been waiting to see how the AT&T case turned out, including Comcast Corp., which has been planning a bid to buy the bulk of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s assets. The decision will give ammunition to Comcast as its argues to Fox and its shareholders that a tie-up between the companies could withstand a regulatory review. A Comcast offer would disrupt Walt Disney Co.’s $52.4 billion all-stock deal with 21st Century Fox, announced in December.
Underlining the magnitude of AT&T’s victory, Judge Leon took the unusual step of urging the government to let the companies close their deal without further legal interference.