The extension should allow time for a verdict in the Department of Justice’s lawsuit seeking to block the deal. The trial will begin in March. June 21 is the date when both parties can officially abandon the deal.
The companies had previously set April 22 as the deadline, and before that Oct. 22 of 2017. The $85B combination was first announced in October 2016, when Barack Obama was president.
This year, under President Donald Trump, the White House and CNN have repeatedly clashed, leading to widespread suspicion that the grudge has played out in the merger review. Makan Delrahim, head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, has denied any influence from Trump, arguing instead that the behavioral remedies implemented for major deals like Comcast-NBCUniversal are no longer acceptable.
So-called “vertical” mergers like AT&T (a telco with distribution assets but almost no content) and Time Warner (a content company with almost no distribution assets) were long believed to be acceptable to regulators. When the deal was announced, its approval was nearly a foregone conclusion and it had breezed through early reviews from a range of bodies before the DOJ threw a flag.
Initially the freeze-up of AT&T-Time Warner was predicted to have a chilling effect on dealmaking, but this month’s landmark acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox by Disney shows the urge to gain scale has not been diminished by the government’s legal aggression.