Lawmakers on the House and Senate’s top antitrust committee say Congress should take a closer look
A collection of top Democrats in the U.S. Congress want to hold hearings on Disney’s $52 billion bid to buy 21st Century Fox.
Key voices on competition and consumer protection fear Disney’s latest deal will only solidify its dominance in entertainment — granting it too many major box-office franchises and too much power over regional sports networks and streaming video services.
“I’m concerned about the impact of this transaction on American consumers,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democratic lawmaker on her chamber’s leading antitrust oversight committee.
Klobuchar said she has already asked the Republican leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee to convene a hearing. With deals of this magnitude, her panel and others like it often do — though GOP leaders have not yet signaled their plans.
Her counterpart in the House, meanwhile, sounded a similarly fearful note.
“Another day, another mega-merger,” said Rep. David Cicilline in a statement last week. “Disney’s proposed purchase of 21st Century Fox threatens to put control of TV, movie, and news content into the hands of a single media giant.”
For the moment, it’s still early days for Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox. The deal as proposed would see Disney acquire Fox’s film and TV studios, including franchises like “Avatar” and “X-men,” as well as Fox’s regional sports networks and a controlling stake in Hulu. However, Disney would not gain Fox News; the network would remain in the hands of its current owner, Rupert Murdoch.
Both sides have told investors will likely take 12 to 18 months to complete, and they will still have to sell the deal to government regulators, who must review the merger to determine its effects on competitors and consumers. That task likely will fall to the Justice Department, which weeks took the rare step of suing companies in a different blockbuster deal — AT&T’s bid for Time Warner.
In these kinds of transactions Congress doesn’t actually have a say. But lawmakers do often probe major mergers anyway, not the least because the DOJ’s own, independent investigation happens outside of public view. At the very least, the hearings — sometimes featuring testimony from major chief executives — can ultimately shape public opinion about the companies’ plans.
To that end, consolidation-wary Democrats have urged their Republican colleagues all week to schedule multiple hearings on Disney’s pursuit of 21st Century Fox. Among those advocating for greater scrutiny has been Rep. Frank Pallone, the Democrats’ top player on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees tech and telecom.
“The Committee’s oversight into these proposed mergers has been lacking,” he said in a statement. “Despite repeated calls from Democratic members, this committee has not had a single hearing to look at the changing video marketplace in more than four years — before many online video services had even launched.”
Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, meanwhile, urged his colleagues to take a closer look at the deal.
The proposed Disney/Fox mega-merger is a serious matter and can’t be taken lightly by Congress. I look forward to reviewing the details of this deal to learn what the implications will be for everyday Americans and those in marginalized communities.https://t.co/iLnnzQqX7n
— Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (@repcleaver) December 15, 2017
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