This is an interesting time in the media landscape, and things just got a lot more interesting. According to The Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon has issued his decision on the antitrust lawsuit over the merger between Time Warner and AT&T. He’s allowing the merger to go through and is imposing no conditions on the two companies.
This merger going through could really change things. It’s been rumored that Disney, Fox, and Comcast have all been waiting to see how this case turns out with their incoming potential mergers. This also sets a precedent when it comes to other cases going forward.
The case, which was filed back in November, argues that the merger would give one company far too much power and influence over the media landscape, essentially eliminating most competition.
The government argued that the AT&T/TW merger would mean that consumers would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for popular programming such as the March Madness college basketball tournament. Because AT&T also owns satellite TV giant DirecTV, the Justice Department trial team led by Craig Conrath outlined concerns that once under AT&T’s thumb, TW would be more willing to hold back content in licensing negotiations with cable and satellite rivals.
Then there is the other side of the argument, where Time Warner and AT&T believe it’s important to merge so they can continue to compete with the ever-changing landscape of media with the likes of Netflix and YouTube for content competition and Amazon, Google, and Facebook for advertising.
AT&T and Time Warner, represented by a legal team led by attorney Daniel Petrocelli, argued that the government’s case was flawed, and that if there was any concern about extortionate licensing demands and the possiblity of channel blackouts, it was resolved by an offer to go to arbitration with third-party distributors who couldn’t come to terms over Turner programming. The defendants also put TW CEO Jeffrey Bewkes and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on the witness stand to defend the merger as a necessary bulwark in the face of aggressive advertising competition from digital giants including Amazon, Google and Facebook and content competition from the likes of Netflix and YouTube.
The two companies now have until June 21st to complete the merger, but the judge’s decision could be taken to the DC Court of Appeals. For fans of X-Men and Fantastic Four joining the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this could put that Disney deal in real jeopardy, with Comcast offering their own deal to 20th Century Fox.
More details, including Judge Leon’s full statement, are coming soon.