Inside Move: No merge dirge

Biz unfazed by new oversight on tie-ups

Hollywood lobbyists don’t seem to be sweating a major restructuring of the merger review process, with the Federal Trade Commission bequeathing all responsibility to Atty. General John Ashcroft’s U.S. Dept. of Justice when it comes to reviewing proposed media/ entertainment deals.

The D.C. crew working for various entertainment and media say the restructuring plan has its good points.

Overall, they say a DOJ review can be more professional. And everyone is nearly giddy at the thought of a more timely review — one of the selling points emphasized by FTC topper Timothy Muris and Asst. Attorney General Charles James when they announced the plan March 5.

“Generally, the people in the industry are pretty satisfied,” one top lobbyist says. “The way they resolved this is good.”

For more than 50 years, Hollywood never knew which antitrust body would investigate a particular media/entertainment merger.

Until the last decade or so, DOJ usually looked at big media deals. But with the growing number of vertical mergers and the blurring of industry lines, the FTC and DOJ began fighting for jurisdiction, leading to review delays for the companies in question.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and consumer advocates hate the idea of removing the FTC from the loop when it comes to media/ entertainment mergers. They say the FTC, at least, is an independent, bipartisan agency, whereas the DOJ has a direct link to the White House.

Antitrust experts disagree that there is a marked difference between the two agencies when it comes to reviewing mergers, saying there are competent staffers at each. And whichever party is in power at the White House also holds the majority of seats on the five-member crew running the FTC.

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