Hunting the Wild Geese: Competition Analysis in a World of 'Free'

Concorrenza e Mercato, 2012

25 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2012

See all articles by Fabio Polverino

Fabio Polverino

University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: September 12, 2012


Not far from DG Competition, in Brussels, there is the “Wild Geese”, a pub where football games (generally broadcast on pay TV) may be watched for free while sipping a beer or eating a sandwich (which, of course, are not free). In a more metaphoric sense, a business based on “free” products or services is a “wild” animal which has a disruptive effect on markets and business traditionally based on (and used to) fees and subscriptions. This article observes from a competition perspective the case of a number of “wild geese” active in today’s economy. The article consists of two parts: the first one focuses on market identification and definition, in cases where “free” is involved. In doing so, the article considers the Commission’s previous case practice and, in addition, takes into consideration elements which might be relevant to market definition (i.e. reverse cellophane fallacy, the demand-enhancing effect of “free” and the role of technology). The second part focuses on the possible conflict between businesses based on “free” and traditional “fee-based” businesses. In particular, it explores available theories of harm which could be raised in relation to “free” businesses. In doing so, the article reviews case decisions based on theories and disciplines which might provide the reader with new tools in the competition analysis of “free” (in particular, game theory and pre-emption in Alcoa, bundled rebates and tying in 3M/LePage and tying in Microsoft). The article concludes with the recently published Microsoft/Skype merger decision which appears to set a new trend for the analysis of “free.”

Keywords: Competition, Antitrust, Merger, Commission, Free

Suggested Citation

Polverino, Fabio, Hunting the Wild Geese: Competition Analysis in a World of 'Free' (September 12, 2012). Concorrenza e Mercato, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Fabio Polverino (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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