The merger's approval was a stinging defeat for the Justice Department, which could move to appeal Leon's ruling. But Comcast has said it's prepped to top Disney's bid for the 21CF assets - and it's widely expected that Comcast will pull the trigger now that the AT&T-Time Warner merger has the go-ahead.
Leon said the government had "taken its best shot" to oppose the merger. The Trump Justice Department sued to block the $85 billion merger, arguing that it would hurt competition in pay TV and cost consumers more to stream TV and movies. Stephenson said Watch would only be possible if the merger went through.
The proposed acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T was what's known as a "vertical merger", the integration of two companies in different areas of the economy. The companies then entered into discussions with the DOJ a year ago and rumors surfaced that the agency had suggested some divestitures in order for AT&T to avoid an antitrust lawsuit.
A federal judge has approved AT&T's merger with Time Warner. The company will now work to complete the merger by June 20th.
Rival cable company Comcast is now likely to go ahead with its planned attempt to woo Fox away from Walt Disney Co, which said it would acquire most assets of the media company for around $50 billion previous year.More news: Jade Returns in New Beyond Good & Evil 2 Trailer
"We are disappointed that the court missed an opportunity to rein in the First Amendment-crushing mass media consolidation trend, which puts too much media power in the hands of too few", Manning said in a statement.
In after-market trading following the ruling, shares of Time Warner rose almost 5 percent and AT&T shares fell 1.6 percent.
His position, which the White House said it supported, also drew accolades from left-leaning politicians and antitrust experts. Comcast, for example, would like to outbid the Walt Disney Co. for some of 21st Century Fox's assets, but has held off until the trial ended.
Leon said the evidence and testimony provided by the government were faulty and that it never proved the merged entity would have increased leverage over its competitors.
The deal, almost two years in the making, netted a massive and potentially legacy-sealing win for AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson also said a year ago, "You shouldn't expect that we would sell something larger [than CNN] to get the deal done".
AT&T said that controlling Time Warner's cable brands will help it craft new types of content to retain its customers as web-based rivals like Netflix Inc woo audiences away from traditional pay-TV subscriptions. The combination would push technology forward and give consumers more choices, AT&T has promised.
Outside of court, however, critics of the lawsuit pointed to Trump's frequent criticism of CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. The government failed to prove that the merger would dampen competition and innovation and raise prices for pay TV, said Daniel Petrocelli, the companies' lead attorney in defending the merger.