A US federal judge has approved telecommunications company AT&T’s US$85 billion takeover of US media giant Time Warner, rejecting the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) request to block the merger.
The administration of US president Donald Trump filed an antitrust suit last year, claiming that the merger would hurt consumers because it could limit competition and inflate prices. AT&T and Time Warner countered that the deal was necessary to keep pace with the rise of streaming rivals like Netflix, Apple and Amazon.
Judge Richard Leon brought a six-week trial to an end on Tuesday almost two years after the initial deal between AT&T and Time Warner was struck in October 2016. Leon issued a ruling without any conditions, stating that that DoJ’s objections “rested on improper notions” before discouraging an appeal.
A statement released by Time Warner in the wake of the ruling pointed the finger at Trump, suggesting that he played a key role in the DoJ’s decision to try and block the takeover. Time Warner claimed the government’s complaint was baseless and ‘political in its motivation’.
AT&T celebrated the ruling and vowed to have the deal closed by 20th June, giving it control of HBO, CNN, Warner Bros. and Time Warner’s other brands.
The takeover will also see Time Warner’s wide-ranging sports portfolio change hands, specifically Turner Sports, which has rights in the US to Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the March Madness college basketball competition. The broadcaster also recently launched the B/R Live streaming service after securing exclusive coverage of the Uefa Champions League and Europa League soccer competitions.
David McAtee, AT&T general counsel, said: “We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner.
“We thank the court for its thorough and timely examination of the evidence, and we compliment our colleagues at the Department of Justice on their dedicated representation of the government. We look forward to closing the merger on or before 20th June so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative.”
The deal is being viewed as a catalyst for tech and telecom giants to pursue a slate of media acquisitions, with Comcast being widely tipped to rival Disney with an imminent bid for part of 21st Century Fox.