Vertical Integration and Media Regulation in the New Economy
131 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2002
Recent mergers and academic commentary have placed renewed focus on what has long been one of the central issues in media policy: whether media conglomerates can use vertical integration to harm competition. This Article seeks to move past previous studies, which have explored limited aspects of this issue, and apply the full sweep of modern economic theory to evaluate the regulation of vertical integration in media-related industries. It does so initially by applying the basic static efficiency analyses of vertical integration developed under the Chicago and post-Chicago Schools of antitrust law and economics to three industries: broadcasting, cable television, and cable modem systems. An analysis of the market structure of these industries reveals that the preconditions recognized by both Schools as necessary for vertical integration to harm competition do not exist. In addition, the cost structure of these industries suggests that vertical integration may well lead to efficiencies sufficient to justify allowing such integration to occur.
A dynamic efficiency analysis also suggests that attempts to regulate vertical integration in these industries are probably misguided. Growing reliance on compelled access to redress the problems purportedly caused by vertical integration threatens to dampen investment incentives in technologically dynamic industries in which such incentives are particularly important. Not only does forcing a monopolist to share an input deviate from the system of well-defined property rights needed to promote efficient levels of investment, it also deprives new entrants seeking to compete directly with the supposed monopoly bottleneck of their natural strategic partners. The Article also engages a complex web of arguments involving the extent to which technological innovation is affected by market concentration, standardization, and network externalities. A close review of the economic literature reveals that the relationship between these factors is too ambiguous to support the type of simple policy inference needed to prohibit vertical integration as a regulatory matter. The Article concludes with an analysis of the intellectual and institutional obstacles for adopting a more integrated economic approach to vertical integration in these industries.
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By Bruce Owen