US judge denies attempt to block Microsoft’s Activision deal

British competition watchdog also agrees to reopen talks on $75bn video games merger

Microsoft has moved closer to securing its $75 billion (€68.2 billion) purchase of Activision Blizzard after a US federal judge rejected the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to halt the deal and Britain’s competition watchdog signalled it was open to discussing a merger it had previously rejected.

Shares in Activision, the group behind video games including Call of Duty, were up more than 11 per cent at $92 in lunchtime trading in New York, their closest to the $95 per share offer price since Microsoft announced its bid in January 2022.

“The FTC has not shown it is likely to succeed on its assertion the combined firm will probably pull Call of Duty from Sony PlayStation, or that its ownership of Activision content will substantially lessen competition in the video game library subscription and cloud gaming markets,” judge Jacqueline Scott Corley wrote in her decision.

The FTC has until Friday to appeal the decision. The agency had sought a preliminary injunction to block the deal pending the outcome of a separate challenge it has mounted in its in-house court, where proceedings are due to start on August 2nd.

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The ruling deals a heavy blow to one of the most high-profile antitrust challenges under Joe Biden’s administration, which has appointed progressive officials such as FTC chairwoman Lina Khan to crack down on anti-competitive conduct across the US economy.

FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar said the agency was “disappointed in this outcome given the clear threat this merger poses to open competition in cloud gaming, subscription services, and consoles. In the coming days we’ll be announcing our next step to continue our fight to preserve competition and protect consumers”.

The FTC has previously dropped cases after losing a request for an injunction. Deals are typically harder to challenge and break apart after their closure.

The judge’s decision clears the way in the US for Microsoft and Activision to close their deal before July 18th, the deadline set when they announced the transaction.

The two companies still face an obstacle in the UK, where the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked the deal in April, arguing it would hamper growth in cloud gaming.

But the CMA followed Tuesday’s US court ruling with a statement saying it was ready to “consider any proposals from Microsoft to restructure the transaction in a way that would address” its concerns, a sharp departure from its initial decision. - Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023

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