"I conclude that the government has failed to meet its burden of proof", District Court Judge Richard Leon told the court.
Evercore analyst Vijay Jayant speculates that Time Warner would benefit most from a scenario in which AT&T wins deal approval but the Justice Department earns the right to appeal the decision and delay the close past the June 21 merger deadline.
As the owner of Time Warner, AT&T would be able to set the price that other cable or satellite companies must pay for a large quantity of TV programming. Delrahim, Trump's appointment as the antitrust chief at the Justice Department, is widely well-regarded.
Because of AT&T's ownership of DirecTV, it can drive a harder bargain with other distributors that want Time Warner content, the government's lawyers argued during the trial.
But AT&T rejected that idea, stating in a court filing that, "Divestitures here would destroy the very consumer value this merger is created to unlock".
However, in Verizon's most recent quarterly earnings call, executives said they would rather sit out the current consolidation, and instead build out its content offerings through partnerships with independent media companies.
Though the deal would combine healthcare businesses that don't compete directly with each other, the United States government could still move to block it on the grounds that it would affect competition in the healthcare system.
Leon said the government had "taken its best shot" to oppose the merger. But, he added, "the government's evidence is too thin a reed for this court to rely on". Stephenson said Watch would only be possible if the merger went through.
Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department's top antitrust official, said the government was disappointed in the ruling and would "consider next steps". 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. Trump had pledged to block the deal when he was campaigning for president. It claims about 25 million of the 90 million or so US households that are pay-TV customers.
Investors anticipate that Comcast will launch a rival bid for 21st Century Fox in the wake of today's federal court ruling clearing the way for the AT&T- mega-merger. In fact, CNNMoney reported that AT&T-Time Warner's counsel Daniel Petrocelli made the argument that traditional media orgs have already been left behind in the digital revolution.
The six-week trial featured a parade of expert witnesses as attorneys for the opposing sides took Leon on a journey through the twisty dynamics of the media and entertainment landscape. A ruling for AT&T and Time Warner would not only give the green light for the merger, but it could unleash a flurry of other deals. AT&T and Time Warner claimed the deal will be good for consumers and help them compete against tech companies such as Google and Facebook.