In a landmark decision today, the honorable circuit court judge Richard J. Leon has chosen not to block the massive “vertical integration” merger of AT&T and Time Warner. This decision has sweeping implications across the board, including the looming deal of either Disney and Fox or Comcast and Fox.
As a reminder, Time Warner owns Warner Brothers, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Warner Brothers TV – and thereby owns DC Entertainment. It is speculated that recent changes at DC with Diane Nelson stepping down as President and (earlier this week) Geoff Johns removing himself as Chief Creative Officer are related to this case.
The case itself began in 2016 and has required over 200 court filings, legions of attornies and an $85 billion dollar offer.
Front row seats to the court room drama were said to cost upwards of $860 as reporters, politicians, business insiders and legal personnel alike all sought to hear the oral ruling live. The windows were blacked out, cellular phones were collected and prevented from entering the court room and the doors were locked shortly after 4 p.m. to have all attention on Judge Leon and to not let the news out until he was fully done reading his ruling.
Comcast was awaiting the ruling to be move forward as quickly as tomorrow with an aggressive all-cash $60 billion-dollar bid on Fox and Sky (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s empire); in fact a bidding war has begun for the next month or so between Murdoch’s Fox, Roberts’ Comcast and Iger’s Disney (whose offer is a stock offer). The result of that will tell us who owns the Fantastic Four and X-men properties and whether or not it will be viable that they can merger in to the Marvel Studio’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Leon was appointed by George Bush and – according to Bloomberg – has a flair for drama and being unpredictable. It’s why so many people were on edge this week and especially today as the ruling could go both ways. The Justice Department has not sought a win on a case this sweeping, on this scale since the Nixon era.
Commenting on the news is David McAtee, AT&T General Counsel: “We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner. We thank the Court for its thorough and timely examination of the evidence, and we compliment our colleagues at the Department of Justice on their dedicated representation of the government. We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative.”
The question now becomes: What will happen with DC Comics, DC Entertainment and the DC Entertainment movie universe? But ALSO what will happen with Comcast’s bid against Disney/Marvel for Fox?
More to come as we learn more about the implications of this ruling for Time Warner, for Fox and for the industry as a whole.