Google’s big move into display advertising is going to be delayed, maybe until April, if it gets approved at all. The European Commission is holding up Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick on antitrust concerns, fearing that Google’s current dominance of search advertising, combined with DoubleClick’s leading position in display advertising will create an unstoppable force.
Truth be told, that is precisely what Google is hoping for, although it must say the exact opposite to try to get the deal past regulators. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is crying that all of his rivals’ advertising deals (Microsoft-aQuantive, Yahoo-Right Media/BlueLithium, AOL-Tacoda/Quigo) have already been approved or face no similar scrutiny. But that misses the whole point of an antitrust review: to prevent the concentration of too much market power in any one company.
Those other deals don’t threaten to cement any one company’s market dominance, as the DoubleClick deal arguably does. (This must be the only time Steve Balmer is tickled that Google is being treated like the new Microsoft). There are also related privacy concerns, as tracking consumers across sites with ad cookies becomes the industry norm, but that is beyond the official purview of the European Commission.
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission has yet to approve the deal as well. But historically, it has been the European Commission that has always been tougher in approving big mergers because it doesn’t have as much enforcement teeth after a deal is already consummated. Its biggest influence (in terms of being able to squash a deal) is always at the initial approval stage, when it has to basically guess what the future may hold. In a sense, it is a futile exercise.
While search and display advertising may make up the bulk of online advertising today (40 percent and 22 percent, respectively, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau), who is to say that social ads or some other as-yet-to-be invented form of digital advertising won’t sweep the world and make the DoubleClick deal irrelevant? In all likelihood, the deal will go through with the European Commission demanding a set of tough, but ultimately misguided, concessions.
Are there concessions it should demand that would make sense and promote a more competitive digital advertising market? Or should it just stop holding Google back and let the market decide who to reward and who to punish? Comments are open.