Leon said the government failed to prove that the merger would lead to higher prices and other ham to consumers.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon announced the decision Tuesday, bringing the biggest antitrust trial in years to an end. The ruling comes one day after the repeal of net neutrality, meaning that AT&T now has more freedom to prioritize the delivery of select content on its network. AT&T lawyers initially sought email correspondence between Trump's White House and the Justice Department, but Leon declared that any communications were not relevant to the trial, and AT&T relented.
The Justice Department's main argument against the merger was that by owning Time Warner's content, which includes must-have channels like CNN, AT&T could raise prices for pay-TV rivals and keep costs prohibitive for online streaming services. Between that now-pending battle and the approved merger of AT&T with Time Warner, the media landscape is undergoing a dramatic shift.
Investors are welcoming a federal judge's approval of AT&T's $85 billion takeover of Time Warner. Comcast is expected to try to buy much of 21st Century Fox, potentially laying the groundwork for a bidding war with Disney.
Outside of court, however, critics of the lawsuit pointed to Trump's frequent criticism of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. It's unusual for the Justice Department to argue that a vertical merger of two companies that aren't direct competitors would limit competition, but the effect that the merger will have on the telecoms and entertainment industry is significant.
The ruling is a major setback for the Justice Department and its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, whose decision to sue to block the deal broke with convention. The combination would push technology forward and give consumers more choices, AT&T has promised. The "drop dead" deadline for completing the merger is June 21. AT&T will now have a major foothold in the media industry.
AT&T has said it needs to buy Time Warner to compete with the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Google in the shape-shifting streaming-TV environment.
In a recent court filing, Redstone said her long-term plan was to create a combined company, which would unite media assets including CBS" broadcast networks, Showtime, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, and then sell it. Halford, from OCC added, "All I know is that this will be a blockbuster summer for media mergers!' And in order to stay competitive, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson said during the trial that it needed a big deal to survive.
"We are disappointed that the court missed an opportunity to rein in the First Amendment-crushing mass media consolidation trend, which puts too much media power in the hands of too few", Manning said in a statement. Trump had pledged to block the deal when he was campaigning for president.
"This is a disappointing result, and we expect the government will appeal", Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer said.