The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop the deal in November 2017, saying that AT&T's ownership of both DirecTV and Time Warner would give AT&T unfair leverage against rival cable providers that relied on Time Warner's content, such as CNN and HBO's "Game of Thrones".
Regulators will still likely scrutinize similar deals, and there is no guarantee that the district court's approval of AT&T's merger with Time Warner means that other major media acquisitions would be approved, several antitrust attorneys told Reuters.
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.
CNN is owned by Time Warner.
A United States federal judge was set to announce his verdict in the $85 billion merger of wireless and broadband giant AT&T with media-entertainment conglomerate Time Warner.
The ruling comes with other big mergers awaiting review.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found little to support the government's arguments that the deal would harm consumers, calling one position "gossamer thin" and another "poppycock".
In a scathing opinion, Leon concluded that the government had failed to show competitive harm and urged the US government not to seek a stay of his ruling pending a potential appeal, saying it would be "manifestly unjust" to do so and not likely to succeed. The combined company would be valued at $146 billion. The Justice Department could decide to appeal the ruling, however. "The decision to approve the AT&T/Time Warner merger further entrenches AT&T as a media gatekeeper that harms the public interest and opens the door for more media consolidation in the future".
"All I know is that this will be a blockbuster summer for media mergers".
"This is extremely bad for DOJ", said Chris Sagers, an antitrust law professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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U.S. District Judge Richard Leon is expected to announce in court Tuesday his decision in the biggest antitrust trial in years.
Before the trial started, AT&T lawyers said the Time Warner deal may have been singled out for government enforcement but the judge rejected their bid to force the disclosure of White House communications that might have shed light on the matter.
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 AT&T lawsuit is the first time in decades that a government challenge of a "vertical merger" - involving two companies that do not directly compete - has gone to court. "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".
Using unusually strong language, Leon said it would be "manifestly unjust" for the government to ask him to put his own ruling on hold, because if he were to do so, it could have the effect of killing the deal, which has a deadline for completion of June 21.
The Justice Department could appeal the ruling.
It also appointed a new chief executive officer earlier this month, Hans Vestberg, the company's chief technology officer, in a move that signaled Verizon would likely double down on its existing telecommunications business. Looming in the background of the deal has been Trump's long-running feud with Time Warner's CNN, which he has often derided as "failing" and a purveyor of "fake news".
AT&T said that controlling Time Warner's cable brands will help it craft new types of content to retain its customers as web-based rivals like Netflix Inc woo audiences away from traditional pay-TV subscriptions.
During the trial, the judge heard from dozens of witnesses, including AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes.
The government estimated costs to industry rivals, such as Charter Communications Inc, would increase by $580 million a year if AT&T owned Time Warner.