Increasingly, cable and satellite TV services (known as “MVPDs”) seek to acquire upstream programming creators, as illustrated by AT&T’s recent merger with Time-Warner. At the same time, the pay-TV industry is rife with “most-favored nation” (MFN) agreements, which can sharply constrict the competitive process. The most problematic variety, so-called “unconditional” MFNs, raise serious antitrust concerns, as they may forestall effective entry by new streaming-based platforms; penalize pro-competitive deviations from the status quo; and facilitate de facto coordination among integrated MVPDs.
While vertical mergers in the industry have received significant antitrust attention, the MFN concerns are interrelated. Problematic MFNs may naturally induce a double marginalization problem, even if the parties are otherwise capable of contracting around it. This creates a strong motivation for integration, but it also raises a question as to whether a merger is the only way to avoid double marginalization. Further, MFNs might compel a problematic form of reciprocal dealing that generates de facto price fixing between integrated rivals. Consequently, the industry’s trend toward integration may trigger other kinds of anti-competitive conduct.
Antitrust Chronicle (forthcoming)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Hovenkamp, Erik and Sukhatme, Neel U., "Vertical Mergers and the MFN Thicket in Television" (2018). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 2084.