In a recent blog post on this site about the Microsoft/ Activision Blizzard merger, the European Commission had just reached a decision to approve the merger subject to remedies, but the investigations in the USA and UK were still ongoing. Since then, the merger has been approved by competition authorities around the world, including in the USA and UK, and thus the merger has gone through.
However, there were some differences in the way the case unfolded under the regulation of these three competition authorities.
The European Commission’s (EC) decision
The European Commission (EC) was the first to give the merger the green light. The EC’s in-depth investigation revealed concerns about the market for the distribution of games via cloud game streaming services. In particular, the concern was related to the possibility that Microsoft might make Activision’s games exclusive to its own cloud game streaming service (Game Pass Ultimate) and restrict access from competing cloud game streaming providers.
The EC argued that this in turn could strengthen Microsoft’s position in the market for PC operating systems, as Microsoft may have an incentive to limit or reduce the quality of the streaming of Activision’s games on PC’s which do not use the Windows operating system.
Thus, while the merger was approved, this was subject to remedies. These remedies included 10-year licensing commitments from Microsoft, as outlined in the EC’s press release:
These licenses will ensure that gamers that have purchased one or more Activision games on a PC or console store, or that have subscribed to a multi-game subscription service that includes Activision games, have the right to stream those games with any cloud game streaming service of their choice and play them on any device using any operating system.
This type of remedy is called a behavioural remedy and often requires the merging firms to commit to taking particular actions post-merger. Unlike structural remedies (which may for example, require the merging firms to sell off an entire business unit), behavioural remedies often require monitoring and enforcement by competition authorities. The EC argued that the deal, with these behavioural remedies, could strengthen competition in the market for cloud gaming.
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) decision
The FTC, in the USA, had similar concerns to those of the EC related to the cloud gaming market. These were outlined in the FTC’s press release:
[The deal] would enable Microsoft to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business.
The FTC also argued that when Microsoft had previously acquired gaming content, it had made this content exclusive to Microsoft consoles. This could result in higher prices, and reduced quality, choice and innovation. To this end, the FTC appealed in an attempt to block the deal, but the Court ruled in favour of the deal going ahead.
During this time, Microsoft announced that it had committed to keeping Call of Duty on Sony’s PlayStation after the merger, and this likely contributed towards the court’s decision. Hence, the FTC was unsuccessful in its attempt to halt the merger.
The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) decision
The final hurdle remaining for Microsoft, was the CMA’s approval. As outlined in a previous blog post on this site, the CMA’s phase 2 investigation revealed similar concerns about the supply of cloud gaming services (amongst concerns related to the market for the supply of console gaming services, which were later dispelled), and whilst Microsoft offered some commitments similar to those accepted by the EC, the CMA did not deem these to be sufficient to address its concerns and thus prohibited the merger.
The CMA’s published remedies guidance suggests that the regulator has a preference for structural remedies over behavioural remedies. One of the reasons for this is because of the requirement to monitor and enforce the commitments, and this therefore formed part of the CMA’s reasons for not accepting the remedies. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft appealed this decision to the UK’s Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT), probably partly driven by the fact that the EC accepted similar remedies to those rejected by the CMA. However, Microsoft and the CMA agreed that if the appeal was paused, Microsoft could propose a new deal.
The new deal: did the CMA make a U-turn?
In August 2023, Microsoft submitted a new restructured deal for the CMA to review. As described by the Chief Executive of the CMA, this deal was “substantially different from what was put on the table previously” and was therefore investigated as a separate merger case under the CMA’s phase 1 processes.
The new deal meant that Microsoft would no longer be purchasing the cloud streaming rights held by Activision. Instead, the cloud streaming rights would be sold to an independent third-party game publisher – Ubisoft. This means that Microsoft will not be in control of the cloud gaming rights for Activision’s gaming content (outside of the EEA), and therefore will not be able to restrict its competitors’ access to Activision’s games, which was one of the main concerns outlined by the CMA based on the initial merger proposal. The new deal also opens up the possibility that Activision’s games will be made available on cloud gaming services that run on a non-Windows operating system.
On 13 October, the CMA approved this deal, subject to the cloud gaming rights being sold to Ubisoft, and some subsequent commitments from Microsoft in relation to its relationship with Ubisoft post-merger, as outlined in the CMA’s final report. However, the Chief Executive of the CMA has emphasised that they are unhappy with the way that Microsoft dealt with negotiating the approval of the merger:
But businesses and their advisors should be in no doubt that the tactics employed by Microsoft are no way to engage with the CMA. Microsoft had the chance to restructure during our initial investigation but instead continued to insist on a package of measures that we told them simply wouldn’t work. Dragging out proceedings in this way only wastes time and money.
What’s next in big tech?
While the merger deal has now gone through, the FTC has recently re-opened its case against Microsoft, which will continue to unfold over the next couple of months until December when the case will appear in Court. This means it is possible that the FTC could attempt to undo the merger, though this would be challenging.
In the tech market more broadly, the CMA has recently launched a market investigation into cloud services. While the focus of this blog post was on cloud gaming, cloud services are now increasingly being used by many businesses. The CMA’s issues statement suggests that a key focus of its investigation will be on the ability for customers to switch between cloud service providers. Microsoft is one of the largest providers of cloud services in the UK, and therefore it is inevitable that it will be under scrutiny. Given all three regulators’ recent efforts to ‘crackdown’ on big tech, this is just one of a series of cases that will be interesting to see unfold.
Competition authorities documentation
- Discuss the effectiveness of behavioural remedies vs structural remedies for a merger.
- Why might the competition authorities have been concerned about the possibility of Microsoft making Activision’s games exclusive to its own cloud game streaming service? Is exclusive dealing always anti-competitive?
- Why was the transfer of the cloud game streaming rights to Ubisoft seen as a suitable remedy?
Effects on competition in the console and cloud gaming markets
Many people in the games industry expected the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to approve Microsoft’s proposed takeover of the games business, Activision Blizzard. However, in its final report published on 26 April, the CMA stated that the takeover would result in a substantial lessening of competition (SLC) in the supply of cloud gaming services in the UK. It rejected a behavioural remedy proposed by Microsoft and concluded that the merger should be prohibited.
When analysing the potential impact of this merger, the CMA focused on the following three issues:
- How important is the availability of Activision Blizzard’s games for the competitiveness of Microsoft’s rivals in the console and cloud gaming market? If, following the merger, Microsoft used its control over Activision Blizzard to restrict the availability of the games, would this significantly harm the competitiveness of their rivals?
- If restricting the availability of the games did harm its rivals, would it be profitable for Microsoft to do so? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? The major benefit for Microsoft is the additional sales this generates as consumers switch to its products to gain access to Activision’s games. The major cost is the forgone sales of the games to their rivals in the console and cloud gaming market.
- If it is profitable for Microsoft to limit the availability of the games, would this policy lead to a substantial lessening of competition (SLC) in the console and cloud gaming market? To answer this question the CMA compared the level of competition that would be most likely to occur if the merger were to proceed with the level if the deal were prohibited? In other words, it needed to identify the counterfactual.
In response to the first issue, the CMA judged that restricting access to Activision Blizzard’s games post-merger would significantly harm the competitiveness of Microsoft’s rivals in both the console and cloud gaming markets. However, its judgment on the second issue differed between the two markets. Why was this? One key issue was the difference in the relative market power of Microsoft in cloud vs console gaming.
One common indicator used to analyse the market position of a business relative to its rivals is market share. Using data on revenues generated from the sales of hardware, associated games and subscription services, console gaming market shares in the UK for 2021 were as follows:
- Sony (PlayStation): 40% – 50%
- Microsoft (xBox): 30% – 40%
- Nintendo (Switch): 10% – 20%
Given the important market position of the PlayStation, limiting the ability of its users to purchase Activision games would result in Microsoft forgoing significant sales and revenue. Detailed analysis of the data by the CMA, indicated that the costs outweighed the benefits and so Microsoft did not have a commercial incentive to limit the availability of the games in this market. Therefore, the CMA concluded that the merger would not result in a SLC in the console gaming market. This finding was discussed in more detail in a blog on this website in March 2023.
The CMA judged that Microsoft had a much stronger position in the market for cloud gaming.
Cloud gaming services
Cloud gaming offers consumers a new way of playing graphically complex games. In this sector of the market, the games run on remote servers/data centres and then stream over the internet to the user’s device. The great advantage with this approach is that it enables consumers to play games on less powerful hardware devices such as smartphones, tablets, smart televisions, and standard PCs. Although the market is currently quite small it, has grown significantly over the past couple of years. Some people argue that it has the potential to make a dramatic change to the gaming market in the same way that businesses such as Netflix and Spotify have transformed the film, TV, and music industries.
It is more difficult to judge the relative market position of firms in a new and dynamic market, where things can change very quickly. The use of market share data is less informative but can still offer some insights. To estimate market shares in cloud gaming, the CMA used data on the number of monthly active users (MAUs). The figures for paid services in the UK for 2022 were as follows:
- xCloud (Microsoft): 70% – 80%
- PlayStation Cloud Gaming (Sony): 20% – 30%
- Boosteroid: 0 – 5%
- Nvidia GFN: 0 – 5%
Data suggest that Microsoft has a much stronger position in this market than in console gaming. There is also evidence that its market position is becoming more dominant. The same market shares for xCloud and PlayStation Gaming in 2021 were 40% – 50% and 50% – 60% respectively.
Given some of the limitations of using market-share data in a new and dynamic market, the CMA analysed other information about the sector to assess Microsoft’s market position. The investigation identified three key factors that could give Microsoft a significant cost advantage over its rivals: cloud infrastructure, the Windows operating system and access to a wide variety of games.
- Infrastructure: Microsoft’s ownership of Azure, a major cloud computing platform, could give it a significant cost advantage over its rivals in the future. A rival firm would need to develop it own cloud infrastructure or purchase these services from a third-party supplier.
- The Windows operating system: Given that far more games are developed for Windows as opposed to other operating systems, using Windows on a cloud infrastructure system gives a supplier access to large number of games. As it already owns Windows, Microsoft will be able to supply the operating system to its own cloud gaming service at little additional cost whereas its rivals will have to pay a license fee.
- Access to a wide range of games: Microsoft already owns twenty-four development studios that produce some very successful games such as Minecraft and Halo. It also has commercial relationships with other third-party developers who produce games for the Xbox console. This gives Microsoft another advantage over many of its rivals.
Given this evidence on Microsoft’s strong market position, the CMA concluded that the benefits to the company of restricting the availability of the games in the cloud gaming market outweighed the costs.
If Microsoft has commercial incentives to restrict the availability of Activision’s games, would this strategy lead to a SLC in the market for cloud gaming? To answer this question, the CMA had to identify the counterfactual: i.e. the most likely outcome in the market if the merger did not proceed. Following detailed analysis of the evidence, the competition authority concluded that Activision was likely to make its games available to different cloud gaming services if the deal did not take place.
Given Microsoft’s (a) strong market position and (b) limited number of relatively small competitors in cloud gaming, the CMA concluded that Microsoft’s commercial incentive to restrict the availability games would lead to a SLC compared to the counterfactual.
Martin Coleman, the chair of the independent panel of experts who conducted the CMA’s investigation, stated that:
Microsoft already enjoys a powerful position and head start over other competitors in cloud gaming and this deal would strengthen that advantage giving it the ability to undermine new and innovative competitors.
In response to these competition concerns, Microsoft offered to supply Activision games to certain cloud gaming services for a 10-year period. However, the CMA concluded that this behavioural remedy was not enough to address the competition issues raised by the merger and recommended that the deal be prohibited.
Microsoft’s immediate response was to appeal the decision to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating the impact of the deal in the USA while the European Commission has just completed its investigation in the European Union. On 15 May, the EC announced that Microsoft’s behavioural remedy did fully address the competition concerns identified during its investigation. Therefore, the merger was approved on condition that Microsoft fully implemented the actions outlined in the remedy.
It will be interesting to read the recommendations of the FTC when the final results of its investigation are published later this year.
CMA and EC press releases
- Discuss the barriers to entry that exist in both the console and cloud gaming markets.
- Outline some of the issues when trying to calculate market shares in cloud gaming.
- What is meaning of the term ‘input foreclosure’? How is this relevant to the Microsoft/Activision case?
- What is the difference between a behavioural and a structural remedy? In what circumstances is a behavioural remedy most likely to be effective?
- Discuss some of the potential limitations with the behavioural remedy proposed by Microsoft.
- Explain why Microsoft’s position in the downstream market for cloud gaming is likely to influence incentives it faces to restrict the availability of Activision’s games post-merger.
Why did a competition authority change its mind on one aspect of this merger?
In January 2022, Microsoft announced its plan to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Activision Blizzard is one of the largest games publishers in the world and famous for titles such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Sales revenue from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II was over $10 billion within ten days of its release in 2022. Given Microsoft’s ownership of the Xbox, one of the three devices that dominate the market for gaming consoles, the deal was always likely to raise competition concerns.
Potential competition issues
Following Phase 1 and 2 merger investigations by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) a number of competition issues were raised. One particular concern was in the market for gaming consoles and the potential impact of the merger on the future availability of Call of Duty (CoD). Some of the key findings of the initial research undertaken by the CMA were that:
- Sony’s PlayStation was a much closer rival for the Xbox than the Nintendo Switch, which tends to offer more family-orientated games.
- PlayStation users spend significant amounts of gametime playing CoD.
- Game availability is a key factor that influences console purchase decisions.
- Twenty-four percent of PlayStation users who play CoD stated that they would not purchase future versions of the console if CoD was unavailable on the platform.
These findings suggest that there are commercial incentives for Microsoft to limit the availability of CoD on the PlayStation. For example, the newly merged business could make future versions of the game exclusive to the Xbox – total exclusivity. Alternatively, it could adopt a policy of partial exclusivity. For example, it could only make versions of CoD available on the PlayStation that exclude some of its more popular features.
There are costs to Microsoft of implementing a policy of total or partial exclusivity. For example, 76% per cent of PlayStation users who play CoD stated that they would not switch consoles if future versions of the game were made unavailable. By making CoD exclusive to Xbox users, Microsoft would lose revenue from forgoing potential sales of the game to this group of users. The firm may also suffer reputational damage if there was a social media backlash against an exclusivity decision.
However, these costs of implementing a policy of exclusivity could be outweighed by the potential benefits. These include:
- The additional sales of consoles as some users switch from the PlayStation to the Xbox to gain access to CoD.
- the sale of CoD and other games to these additional Xbox users.
To quantify these costs and benefits, the CMA used a financial model that includes information on the amounts of money users typically spend on the Xbox platform and CoD over a five-year period. This ‘lifetime value of customers’ model found that it would be profitable for Microsoft to implement a policy of exclusivity post-merger.
The CMA also noted that in the majority of cases where Microsoft had previously acquired gaming studios, the subsequent release of games had been made exclusive to the Xbox.
Following its analysis of the case, the CMA published its provisional findings on the 8th February 2023. One key finding was that the merger would harm consumers, as it would lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the supply of console gaming services. The CMA argued that the acquisition should proceed only if Activision Blizzard sold off the parts of its business responsible for producing CoD. This is a structural remedy.
Microsoft rejected these findings and argued that the financial modelling used by the CMA was based on inaccurate data. In its formal written response to the competition authority the company argued that:
- The potential gains from a policy of exclusivity had been calculated over a five-year period whereas the costs (i.e. the forgone sales of CoD) had only been calculated over a one-year period. More accurate analysis should compare both the potential gains and losses over a five-year period.
- When more recent data are used to calculate the amounts of money users typically spend on the Xbox platform and CoD over a five-year period, the figure is lower than in the original work by the CMA.
Revised CMA findings
Having adjusted its analysis to take account of these criticisms, the CMA published an update to its Provisional Findings on 24th March 2023. In this update the competition authority stated that:
The analysis now shows that it would not be commercially beneficial to Microsoft to make CoD exclusive to Xbox following the deal, but that Microsoft will instead still have the incentive to continue to make the game available on PlayStation.
Therefore, just six weeks after publishing its Provisional Findings the CMA changed its conclusion and stated that the merger would not result in a substantial lessening of competition in the market for the supply of console gaming services in the UK.
In response to these changes an ex-CMA lawyer stated that:
This is extremely unusual. Restating your provisional findings is something ‘you would rather die than do’.
It is important to remember that the investigation by the CMA also raised concerns about the impact of the acquisition on competition in the cloud gaming market. These concerns remain unaffected by these updated findings and a final report will be published by the CMA at the end of April.
Competition authorities from 16 different countries/regions are also investigating the deal, including the Federal Trade Commission in the USA and the European Commission. It will be interesting to see if these authorities agree on the potential impact of the merger on competition.
- Under what circumstances could a merger result in a substantial lessening of competition?
- Summarise the thresholds that have to be met by a potential merger before it is investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority.
- Explain the direct and indirect network effects that exist in the console gaming market. To what extent do they create barriers to entry?
- Outline some different ways that Microsoft could introduce a policy of partial exclusivity for the Call of Duty franchise of games.
- What would be the impact of a policy of exclusivity on the cross price elasticity of demand between Xbox and PlayStation consoles?
- Outline the difference between behavioural and structural remedies for merger.
- Discuss why the acquisition of Activision by Microsoft might reduce competition in the cloud gaming market.
With the coronavirus pandemic having reached almost every country in the world, the impact on the global economy has been catastrophic. Governments have struggled balancing the spread of the virus and keeping the economy afloat. This has left businesses counting the costs of various control measures and numerous lockdowns. The crisis has particularly affected small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), causing massive job losses and longer-term economic scars. Among these is an increase in the market power held by dominant firms as they emerge even stronger while smaller rivals fall away.
It is feared that with the full effects of the pandemic not yet realised, there may well be a wave of bankruptcies that will hit SMEs harder than larger firms, particularly in the most affected industries. Larger firms are most likely to be more profitable in general and more likely to have access to finance. Firm-level analysis using Orbis data, which includes listed and private firms, suggests that the pandemic-driven wave of bankruptcies will lead to increases in industry concentration and market power.
What is market power?
A firm holds a dominant position if its power enables it to operate within the market without taking account of the reaction of its competitors or of intermediate or final consumers. The key role of competition authorities around the world is to protect the public interest, particularly against firms abusing their dominant positions.
The UK’s competition authority, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) states:
Market power arises where an undertaking does not face effective competitive pressure. …Market power is not absolute but is a matter of degree; the degree of power will depend on the circumstances of each case. Market power can be thought of as the ability profitably to sustain prices above competitive levels or restrict output or quality below competitive levels. An undertaking with market power might also have the ability and incentive to harm the process of competition in other ways; for example, by weakening existing competition, raising entry barriers, or slowing innovation.
It can be hard to distinguish between a rapidly growing business and growing concentration of market power. In a pandemic, these distinctions can become even more difficult to discern, since there really is a deep need for a rapid deployment of capital, often in distressed situations. It is also not always evident whether the attempt to grow is driven by the need for more productive capacity, or by the desire to engage in financial engineering or to acquire market power.
It may be the case that, as consumers, we simply have no choice but to depend on various monopolies in a crisis, hoping that they operate in the public interest or that the competition authorities will ensure that they do so. With Covid-19 for example, economies will have entered the pandemic with their existing institutions, and therefore the only way to operate may be through channels controlled by concentrated power. Market dominance can occur for what seem to be good, or least necessary, reasons.
Why is market power a problem?
Why is it necessarily a problem if a successful company grows bigger than its competitors through hard work, smart strategies, and better technology adoption? It is important to recognise that increases in market power do not always mean an abuse of that market power. Just because a company may dominate the market, it does not mean there is a guaranteed negative impact on the consumer or industry. There are many advantages to a monopoly firm and, therefore, it can be argued that the existence of a market monopoly in itself should not be a cause of concern for the regulator. Unless there is evidence of past misconduct of dominance, which is abusive for the market and its stakeholders, some would argue that there is no justification for any involvement by regulators at all.
However, research by the International Monetary Fund concluded that excessive market power in the hands of a few firms can be a drag on medium-term growth, stifling innovation and holding back investment. Given the severity of the economic impact of the pandemic, such an outcome could undermine the recovery efforts by governments. It could also prevent new and emerging firms entering the market at a time when dynamism is desperately needed.
The ONS defines business dynamism as follows:
Business dynamism relates to measures of birth, growth and decline of businesses and its impact on employment. A steady rate of business creation and closure is necessary for an economy to grow in the long-run because it allows new ideas to flourish.
A lack of business dynamism could lead to a stagnation in productivity and wage growth. It also affects employment through changes in job creation and destruction. In this context, the UK’s most recent unemployment rate was 5%. This is the highest figure for five years and is predicted to rise to 6.5% by the end of 2021. Across multiple industries, there is now a trend of falling business dynamism with small businesses failing to break out of their local markets and start-up companies whose prices are undercut by a big rival. This creates missed opportunities in terms of growth, job creation, and rising incomes.
There has been a rise in mergers and acquisitions, especially amongst dominant firms, which is contributing to these trends. Again, it is important to recognise that mergers and acquisitions are not in themselves a problem; they can yield cost savings and produce better products. However, they can also weaken incentives for innovation and strengthen a firm’s ability to charge higher prices. Analysis shows that mergers and acquisitions by dominant firms contribute to an industry-wide decline in business dynamism.
Changes in market power due to the pandemic
The IMF identifies key indicators for market power, such as the percentage mark-up of prices over marginal cost, and the concentration of revenues among the four biggest players in a sector. New research shows that these key indicators of market power are on the rise. It is estimated that due to the pandemic, this increase in market dominance could now increase in advanced economies by at least as much as it did in the fifteen years to the end of 2015.
Global price mark-ups have risen by more than 30%, on average, across listed firms in advanced economies since 1980. And in the past 20 years, mark-up increases in the digital sector have been twice as steep as economy-wide increases. Increases in market power across multiple industries caused by the pandemic would exacerbate a trend that goes back over four decades.
It could be argued that firms enjoying this increase in market share and strong profits is just the reward for their growth. Such success if often a result of innovation, efficiency, and improved services. However, there are growing signs in many industries that market power is becoming entrenched amid an absence of strong competitors for dominant firms. It is estimated that companies with the highest mark-ups in a given year, have an almost 85 percent chance of remaining a high mark-up firm the following year. According to experts, some of these businesses have created entry barriers – regulatory or technology driven – which are incredibly high.
Professor Jayant R. Varma, a member of the MPC of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), observed that in several sectors characterised by an oligopolistic core and a competitive periphery, the oligopolistic core has weathered the pandemic and it is the competitive periphery that has been debilitated. Rising profits and profit margins, improving capacity utilisation and lack of new capacity additions create ripe conditions for the oligopolistic core to start exercising pricing power.
The drivers and macroeconomic implications of such rises in market power are likely to differ across economies and individual industries. Even in those industries that benefited from the crisis, such as the digital sector, dominant players are among the biggest winners. The technology industry has been under the microscope in recent years, and increasingly the big tech firms are under scrutiny from regulators around the world. The market disruptors that displaced incumbents two decades ago have become increasingly dominant players that do not face the same competitive pressures from today’s would-be disruptors. The pandemic is adding to powerful underlying forces such as network effects and economies of scale and scope.
A new regulator that aims to curb this increasing dominance of the tech giants has been established in the UK. The Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will be based inside the Competition and Markets Authority. The DMU will first look to create new codes of conduct for companies such as Facebook and Google and their relationship with content providers and advertisers. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the regime will be ‘unashamedly pro-competition’.
The additions in regulation in the UK fall in line with the guidance from the IMF. It recommends that adjustments to competition-policy frameworks need to be made in order to minimise the adverse effects of market dominance. Such adjustments must, however, be tailored to national circumstances, both in general and to address the specific challenges raised by the surge of the digital economy.
It recommends the following five actions:
- Competition authorities should be increasingly vigilant when enforcing merger control. The criteria for competition authorities to review a deal should cover all relevant cases – including acquisitions of small players that may grow to compete with dominant firms.
- Second, competition authorities should more actively enforce prohibitions on the abuse of dominant positions and make greater use of market investigations to uncover harmful behaviour without any reported breach of the law.
- Greater efforts are needed to ensure competition in input markets, including labour markets.
- Competition authorities should be empowered to keep pace with the digital economy, where the rise of big data and artificial intelligence is multiplying incumbent firms’ advantage. Facilitating data portability and interoperability of systems can make it easier for new firms to compete with established players.
- Investments may be needed to further boost sector-specific expertise amid rapid technological change.
The crisis has had a significant impact on all businesses, with many shutting their doors for good. However, there has been a greater negative impact on SMEs. Even in industries that have flourished from the pandemic, it is the dominant firms that have emerged the biggest winners. There is concern that the increasing market power will remain embedded in many economies, stifling future competition and economic growth. While the negative effects of increased market power have been moderate so far, the findings suggest that competition authorities should be increasingly vigilant to ensure that these effects do not become more harmful in the future.
Reviews of competition policy frameworks have already begun in some major economies. Young, high-growth firms that innovate and create high-quality jobs deserve a level playing field and a fair chance to succeed. Support directed to SMEs is important, as many small firms have been unable to benefit from government programmes designed to help firms access financing during the pandemic. Policymakers should act now to prevent a further, sharp rise in market power that could hold back the post-pandemic recovery.
- What are the arguments for and against the assistance of a monopoly?
- What barriers to entry may exist that prevent small firms from entering an industry?
- What policies can be implemented to limit market power?
- Define and explain market dynamism.
Cloud computing is growing rapidly and has started to dominate many parts of the IT market. Cloud revenues are rising at around 25% per year and, according to Jeremy Duke of Synergy Research Group:
“Major barriers to cloud adoption are now almost a thing of the past, especially on the public-cloud side. Cloud technologies are now generating massive revenues for technology vendors and cloud service providers, and yet there are still many years of strong growth ahead.”
The market leader in cloud services (as opposed to cloud hardware) is Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon. At the end of 2016, it had a market share of around 40%, larger than the next three competitors (Microsoft, Google and IBM), combined. AWS originated cloud computing some 10 years ago. It is set to have generated revenue of $13 billion in 2016.
The cloud computing services market is an oligopoly, with a significant market leader, AWS. But is the competition from other players in the market, including IT giants, such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, enough to guarantee that the market stays competitive and that prices will fall as technology improves and costs fall?
Certainly all the major players are investing heavily in new services, better infrastructure and marketing. And they are already established suppliers in other sectors of the IT market. Microsoft and Google, in particular, are strong contenders to AWS. Nevertheless, as the first article states:
Neither Google nor Microsoft have an easy task since AWS will continue to be an innovation machine with a widely recognized brand among the all-important developer community. Both Amazon’s major competitors have an opportunity to solidify themselves as strong alternatives in what is turning into a public cloud oligopoly.
While Amazon dominates cloud infrastructure, an oligopoly is emerging. Which will buyers bet on? diginomica, Kurt Marko (16/2/17)
Study: AWS has 45% share of public cloud infrastructure market — more than Microsoft, Google, IBM combined GeekWire, Dan Richman (31/10/16)
Cloud computing revenues jumped 25% in 2016, with strong growth ahead, researcher says GeekWire, Dan Richman (4/1/17)
Press releases Synergy Research Group
- Distinguish the different segments of the cloud computing market.
- What competitive advantages does AWS have over its major rivals?
- What specific advantages does Microsoft have in the cloud computing market?
- Is the amount of competition in the cloud computing market enough to prevent the firms from charging excessive prices to their customers? How might you assess what is ‘excessive’?
- What barriers to entry are there in the cloud computing market? Should they be a worry for competition authorities?
- Are the any network economies in cloud computing? What might they be?
- Cloud computing is a rapidly developing industry (for example, the relatively recent development of cloud containers). How does the speed of development impact on competition?
- How would market saturation affect competition and the behaviour of the major players?