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AT&T can buy Time Warner, and everyone else can buy everything else

No conditions, no restraints. A victory for mergermania, and a loss for the Trump administration.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson
Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Verizon? Go right ahead. Charter? You, too. Amazon and other tech companies with billions to burn? Go for it.

That’s the message from a federal judge, who has ruled today that AT&T can buy Time Warner — and, crucially, didn’t apply any restrictions to his decision.

That clears the way for other “vertical” mergers, which means other people who control distribution — cable guys, telco guys, tech guys — can buy content guys.

So, again, take a last look at this chart:

Image of the media landscape, updated June 11

Because it’s going to be a collector’s item.

For starters, Comcast*, which has already said it was going to bid on the 21st Century Fox assets Disney already plans to buy, is definitely going to make that bid.

The Murdoch family has said they’d prefer the Disney bid for multiple reasons, including the fact that it was more likely to pass regulatory muster. Now Comcast, which owns both a distribution business and a content business, can reasonably argue that it will be easier for a Comcast/Fox deal to get approved.

Other obvious potential buyers include Charter, the second-biggest pay TV distributor in the U.S., and Verizon, which has already looked at buying CBS, per CBS’s legal team.

The Department of Justice can appeal Judge Richard Leon’s decision, and could conceivably ask for an injunction that would stop the deal from closing before a June 20 deadline.

But Leon went out of his way to argue against a stay, and hinted at the notion that the reason the case existed in the first place was to please Donald Trump, who campaigned against the deal as a presidential candidate, and has continued to rail against Time Warner’s CNN since taking office.

“There is a grave and understandable fear on the part of the defendants that the government will now seek to do indirectly what it couldn’t accomplish by seeking a stay,” he wrote. “I hope and trust that the Government will have the good judgement, wisdom and courage to avoid such a manifest injustice. To do so otherwise, I fear, would undermine the faith in our system of justice of not only the defendants, but their millions of shareholders and the business community at large.”

Here’s AT&T’s official statement:

“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.”

And from the DOJ, via Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, who filed the case against AT&T:

”We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. We will closely review the Court’s opinion and consider next steps in light of our commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers.”

Read the full decision below.

* Comcast is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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