FTC Nears Decision On Whether To Challenge Amazon-MGM Merger – Report

The FTC is set to decide over the next few weeks whether to bring an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon’s planned merger with MGM. The Information reported this evening that the U.S. regulator is exploring actions that include hiring expert witnesses.

The $8.45 billion deal was announced last May, around the same time as WarnerMedia-Discovery. The latter merger has the DOJ’s blessing and is on track to close early in the second quarter. But regulators put Amazon on notice last July that they were investigating its acquisition of the storied studio.

Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service is free for subscribers of Amazon Prime, the world’s biggest customer loyalty program and the heart of Amazon’s commerce business. MGM’s library, with more than 4,000 films including the James Bond and Rocky franchises, and 17,000 TV shows, would significantly enhance Prime Video. Amazon Studios is behind The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel among others and will debut the first season of its new Lord Of The Rings: The Rings of Power in September.

“The acquisition thesis here is really very simple. MGM has a vast, deep catalog of much beloved intellectual property. And with the talent at Amazon and the talent at MGM Studio, we can reimagine and develop that IP for the 21st century,” said Amazon founder and then CEO Jeff Bezos last spring. “It will be a lot of fun work and people who love stories will be the big beneficiaries.”

Amazon, like other tech giants, has been targeted by regulators and Congress for alleged anticompetitive practices, including Amazon undermining and underselling vendors on its platform for one.

Thirty-four groups from the Writers Guild of America West to Public Citizen to Demand Progress have appealed to the FTC to deflect the e-commerce giant’s dominance. “It is not simply a one-off deal for streaming content; it is the latest move in Amazon’s overarching strategy to create numerous interconnected points of dominance over businesses and consumers,” they said in letter to FTC chair Lina Khan.

Wall Streeters and legal pundits however, have been skeptical there are valid antitrust grounds to block the deal given it’ scope compared with others, like Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, or even the hookup of WarnerMedia and Discovery. Regulators lost a legal battle to block AT&T from buying Time Warner.

President Joe Biden’s FTC has become increasingly aggressive in challenging deals across sectors. But the watchdog does need a majority vote to file a lawsuit and is currently evenly split 2-2, according to the Information, ahead of the arrival of a fifth commissioner, Alvaro Bedoya, whose nomination by President Biden last fall has been in limbo. The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled a vote on his appointment Thursday but he may not be seated in time.

The EU has set a March 15 deadline to rule not the deal.

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