Fate of massive AT&T-Time Warner merger in US judge’s hands


WASHINGTON (AP) — The fate of the AT&T-Time Warner merger, a massive media deal opposed by the government that could shape how much consumers pay for streaming TV and movies, rests in the hands of a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon is expected to announce in court Tuesday his decision in the biggest antitrust trial in years. The Trump Justice Department sued to block the $85 billion merger, arguing that it would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars more to stream TV and movies.

If Leon approves the deal, the phone and pay-TV giant would be allowed to absorb the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, “Game of Thrones,” coveted sports programming and other “must-see” shows.

Another possible outcome would be for the judge to approve the merger — but on condition that AT&T not acquire certain Time Warner assets, such as Turner Broadcasting’s CNN, or sell off its valuable DirecTV, or accept curbs on how it deploys Time Warner programming.

Or Leon could reject the merger outright, accepting the government’s contention that it would hurt pay-TV consumers and competition in the industry.

The mega-merger is a high-stakes bet by AT&T Inc. on the synergy between companies that produce news and entertainment and those that funnel it to consumers — who spend more time watching video on phones and tablets and less time on traditional live TV on a big screen.

Approval of the combination would be a stinging defeat for the Justice Department, which could move to appeal Leon’s ruling. The proposed merger was so big and consequential that it drew the government’s first lawsuit in decades to block a merger of two companies that don’t directly compete. First floated in October 2016, the deal also brought fire from then-candidate Donald Trump, who promised to kill it “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

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