Why the July 29th hearing was important to writers.
The House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee held a blockbuster hearing on “Big Tech” and its effect on American consumers and competition on Wednesday, July 29. Members of Congress presented compelling evidence that US antitrust law has failed to prevent Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon from conquering markets and quashing competition.
From social media and apps to online video and digital advertising, these companies have gained and maintained control by wedging themselves between their competitors and consumers. The tech giants bought up their competition to gain market control and use their power to keep the public inside each company’s walled garden.
The Guild has long raised concerns with regulators and legislators about the failure of antitrust law and enforcement to protect markets from the anticompetitive conduct of the traditional media gatekeepers. Now the Big Tech companies are looking to extend their control over our industry through their ongoing shift to online streaming.
The recent dispute between Amazon Fire and HBO Max, in which Amazon is attempting to extract content from a competing service in exchange for carriage on its own streaming device, illustrates the very problem at the heart of the July 29 hearing. To this point, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) asked, “[Is] it fair to use your gatekeeper status role in the streaming device market to promote your position as a competitor in the streaming video market with respect to content?”
The answer is clear: when companies like Amazon can “compete” while also controlling access to the market, there is a problem.
This feature of antitrust—promoting markets that new competitors could enter—has been neglected in favor of a narrow focus on consumer prices. The impact of consolidation on workers, and on consumer choice and variety, has likewise been dismissed or ignored. However, last Wednesday’s hearing showed that lawmakers are finally starting to take these issues seriously.
As Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) aptly said, “the whole goal of this committee’s work is to make sure that there are more Amazons, that there are more Apples, that there are more companies that get to innovate and small businesses get to thrive.” This issue impacts digital advertisers, app developers, and Hollywood.
That’s why the Guild consistently advocates for policies and legislation to increase competition in the entertainment industry to provide more outlets and employers for writers. We’ve supported net neutrality, opposed media and telecommunications mergers, and called for more aggressive antitrust enforcement. We regularly go on the record with antitrust agencies about the need for real merger enforcement, and we have submitted material in support of this very investigation by the antitrust subcommittee. Our submission to the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice for their review of merger guidelines was cited in FTC Commissioner Chopra's dissent. We are also supporting legislation such as Amy Klobuchar’s Anticompetitive Exclusionary Conduct Prevention Act of 2020 and scrutinizing candidates’ positions on antitrust for PAC endorsement. Through these actions, the Guild is a key player in this timely debate.