AT&T laid the groundwork for a court case against the US Department of Justice (DoJ), submitting filings defending its merger with Time Warner and asking for a hearing in February 2018.
The filings offer a preview of AT&T’s court argument, claiming the transaction is a “pro-competitive, pro-consumer response to an intensely competitive and rapidly changing video marketplace”. The operator reiterated its assertion none of its competitors “will be eliminated” by the vertical merger and also argued neither company holds a sufficiently imposing market share to cause concern.
“To the contrary, the relevant distribution markets in which AT&T operates are highly competitive – and becoming more so by the day – and by no conceivable measure does Time Warner have anything but insignificant market shares in a rapidly-expanding content marketplace with low barriers to entry and new participation by several of the most well-funded companies in the world.”
AT&T outlined a number of remedies Time Warner’s Turner property already offered to distributors, noting they are in line with protections agreed in a previous, separate, merger of Comcast with NBCUniversal which the government approved.
Rather than harming consumers, AT&T asserted the transaction will “allow the combined company to drive innovation” in content and distribution, including developing a new OTT path for Time Warner content, new advert-supported video models, and creating a platform combining AT&T’s consumer data and Turner’s advertising inventory for better targeting.
“In seeking to block this merger, then, the government is not only departing from established antitrust precedent, but is also shielding rivals from new competition that would greatly benefit consumers,” AT&T concluded.
In keeping with previous statements it would seek a court date as soon as possible, AT&T requested a start date for the antitrust trial of 20 February. However, the proposal puts it at odds with the DoJ, which suggested a date of 7 May.
Notably, the DoJ’s proposed date would come after AT&T and Time Warner’s revised closing deadline of 22 April. AT&T urged the court to go with an earlier date, noting the DoJ had already spent more than a year investigating the transaction.