Sunday, 24 June, 2018

AT&T wins court approval to buy Time Warner over Trump opposition

Comcast readying new bid for 20th Century Fox film and TV assets AT&T-Time Warner Merger Gets The Green Light From Federal Court
Freda Brock | 14 June, 2018, 03:19

Twenty-First Century Fox jumped 7 percent in extended trade after the ruling on expectations that Comcast and Walt Disney Co could start a bidding war to acquire its media assets.

In a letter to Fox executives (namely Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch), Comcast CEO Brian Roberts wrote that after meetings previous year, his team was convinced that Comcast would be "the right strategic home" for the Fox assets, and that "we were disappointed when 21CF made a decision to enter into a transaction with The Walt Disney Company, even though we had offered a meaningfully higher price".

A high-stakes decision in a United States court Tuesday will be significant for the future of Big Media, Big Tech and big business in general.

"This was a defining case for antitrust enforcement in the U.S.", former Justice Department antitrust attorney Ketan Jhaveri said.

Shares of 21st Century Fox rose more than 7% in early trading Wednesday after a Federal judge ruled AT&T could buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion, largely seen as a positive sign for future mergers. So when the proposed merger was announced in 2016, it was widely expected that it would not be challenged. DOJ antitrust official Makan Delrahim said his agency will consider "next steps" but Judge Richard Leon was explicit in warning the DOJ against requesting a stay or otherwise trying to delay the merger, saying such an action would be "manifestly unjust".

Disney CEO Bob Iger has repeatedly denied to comment on the deal itself, citing the ongoing regulatory process, but has expressed excitement about his company's plan for how to integrate the assets. CNN is a unit of Time Warner. The Fox board rebuffed its more generous offer last December and picked Disney's lower-value, $52.4 billion all-stock bid because it was viewed as the safer bet - especially in light of the Trump Administration's Justice Department antitrust suit seeking to block the AT&T-Time Warner combination.

Shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney were barely changed in after-hours trade. Rather than negotiating an agreement that imposes conditions on how AT&T can conduct business, Delrahim demanded AT&T sell businesses to address threats to competition, which the company refused to do.

George and Charlotte goof off at William's polo match
But the prince and princess were clearly having far too much fun to actually sit down and watch the match. My American side here, biased maybe because of everyday #gunviolence in US , but my British side agrees.

The deal would mean that AT&T, best known as a wireless provider, but which also owns DirecTV, would own major content creators such as HBO, CNN, TBS and Warner Bros.

The Justice Department is not likely to be put off by the loss, said Amy Ray of the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, noting it had prevailed in stopping other mergers between rivals.

When the government sued a year later, it alleged that a combined AT&T-Time Warner would have too much leverage in negotiations with television distributors, which would hurt competitors, harm innovation and could lead to increased cable prices for consumers.

In the most high-profile antitrust case in decades, the ruling is likely to set a benchmark for whether other mega-deals, especially in the media and communications sectors, can proceed or will face heightened antitrust scrutiny.

Notably, the ruling does not require AT&T to divest any assets of Time Warner to complete the transaction.

Burns McKinney, a portfolio manager at Allianz Global Investors who owns AT&T, said he would not say the telecoms company had won a huge victory. Time Warner makes TV shows, while AT&T broadcasts them.

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