Now that AT&T has been cleared to buy Time Warner, here's what happens next

Key Points
  • AT&T will look to close its Time Warner acquisition within a week.
  • Comcast will challenge Disney to buy the majority of 21st Century Fox.
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On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that AT&T could buy Time Warner with no conditions attached, denying a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust challenge to the deal.

The DoJ could still appeal, but assuming it doesn't, here's what happens next.


AT&T will move quickly to complete its $85 billion deal for Time Warner. AT&T has said it intends to close less than a week after a deal is approved, allowing for a short process by the appeals court to order a stay.

Time Warner

CEO Jeff Bewkes will transition out of his job, collecting millions on his way out as part of a change of control employment package. The Time Warner brand will go away, following last year's extinction of Time Warner Cable.


Comcast plans to kick off a bidding war on Wednesday with Disney to buy some Twenty-First Century Fox assets, which include cable networks, 39 percent of British satellite TV provider Sky Plc and Indian media conglomerate Star, according to people familiar with the matter. While there's no guarantee a Comcast-Fox tie-up would pass regulatory approval, Comcast would feel good about its chances.

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Rupert Murdoch will become a wealthier man. Comcast intends to bid about $60 billion in cash, topping Disney's $52 billion all-stock offer.


Disney will have to decide if it's willing to improve its offer for Fox. Disney could decide to both raise its offer and change the mix of assets from all stock to cash-and-stock.

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CBS and Viacom previously put pencils down on negotiating a merger that controlling shareholder National Amusements has been pushing for. Now, both companies could theoretically have some other options, such as selling to Verizon, Charter, or a combined Sprint/T-Mobile, down the road.


Verizon now has a clear opening to buy a large content company to compete with AT&T. This could be CBS, Viacom (or a combined CBS-Viacom), Discovery or something else. But Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam told CNBC last month that buying a large pay-TV company is "not our strategy," and the naming of successor Hans Vestberg, currently Verizon's CTO, suggests the company is more concerned with rolling out 5G than copying AT&T.

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Charter will also have a clear path forward to buying a content company if it wants to go down that road. Charter may also find negotiations with Time Warner a bit more challenging if the government argument turned out to be correct and AT&T threatens to hold back Time Warner programming if it doesn't get higher programming fees.


Liberty Media Chairman and Discovery shareholder John Malone has long speculated about rolling up smaller content companies and potentially combining them with a cable or wireless provider. He owns stakes in Discovery, Lionsgate and Charter, among other companies. An approved deal may push him further in the direction of mass consolidation among his assets, if not others.


Sprint and T-Mobile, which announced plans to merge in April, will likely argue that AT&T will get even bigger and stronger as a competitor as they try to persuade U.S. regulators to allow a merger. Deal approval could also lead to an acquisition of a content company several years from now, although integration hurdles and capital spending on a combined company's network would probably take precedence.

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Disclosure: CNBC is owned by Comcast's NBCUniversal unit.

Correction: An earlier version mischaracterized Disney's bid for Fox assets. It is currently all stock.