Mar 29, 2018

Judge warns AT&T and DOJ that they’re moving too slow

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes arrives for opening statements in the AT&T-Time Warner merger trial. Photo: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Judge Richard J. Leon, who is presiding over the AT&T-Time Warner merger case, indicated that he is beginning to feel fed up with the slow-moving process warning, “My tolerance to date for redundancy [in witnesses] has been reasonably high, but it’s going to be lowered."

Why it matters: The trial was supposed to last at most eight weeks — wrapping up in May — but things have gotten off to a slow start with procedural nuances and snow days getting in the way. Meanwhile, a plethora of media deals that ride on the outcome of this case remain on hold.

Leon's comments came after a second Department of Justice witness from Cox Communications Inc. took the stand and said pretty much the same thing as the first: Cox never did an actual calculation of how many subscribers they would lose if AT&T withholds Turner programming from competitors upon the completion of a merger with Turner’s parent company, Time Warner.

  • The judge warned that both the DOJ and AT&T needed to take the weekend to refine their witness lists and get ahead of the schedule.
  • “If it goes until May then we only have four more weeks, there’s no way we’ll be able to get all that done.”

Thus far, the DOJ has brought four witnesses to the stand: Cox executive Suzanne Fenwick, Sling TV Group President Warren Schlichting, Turner CEO John Martin, and Cox pricing executive Marty Hinson.

Our thought bubble: it’s clear through the cross-examinations that AT&T’s infamous trial lawyer Daniel Petrocelli is putting more pressure on some of the witnesses than the DOJ’s attorneys. Still, there’s no way to predict at this point which way Leon might be leaning — and little has been revealed in the proceedings thus far that’s incredibly surprising. 

The big picture: The deal is holding up proceedings for other media companies.

  • 21st Century Fox announced a $52 billion merger deal with Disney last year, and Comcast has reportedly offered a higher bid.
  • Comcast is also exploring a bid for European media giant Sky, but competition authorities there are reviewing another bid for the broadcaster from Fox — which includes evaluating the merger with Disney as a part of their review. 
  • CBS and Viacom are exploring a merger. 
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