In a surprising turn of events, Microsoft is reportedly considering extreme measures to proceed with its planned $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, despite the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocking the deal in April.
Brad Smith Meeting with UK Chancellor and CMA
Microsoft President Brad Smith is scheduled to visit London next week to discuss the company's options with the legal team representing Microsoft in its appeal against the CMA's decision. One of the options being considered is to bypass the UK order and press ahead with the deal, or alternatively, withdraw Activision from the UK market.
Smith is also set to meet with UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt and members of the CMA. Hunt has previously criticized the CMA's decision, arguing that regulatory groups should “understand their wider responsibilities.”
The Concerns of the CMA
The CMA had rejected the purchase of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft, expressing concerns that Microsoft's current status as the biggest cloud gaming provider would give it a competitive advantage if it gained access to Activision Blizzard's games and made them exclusive to Microsoft's cloud service. Microsoft has filed a formal appeal of the CMA's decision. A judge assigned to hear the case for the UK Competition Appeals Tribunal has set a tentative date of July 24 for the appeal hearing to begin.
EU's Approval of the Deal
In contrast to the UK's decision, the European Union approved the acquisition just a few weeks later. The EU felt that Microsoft's remedies, which included offering both its own and Activision Blizzard's games to competing cloud gaming services for at least 10 years, were sufficient to allow the acquisition to proceed.
As Microsoft continues to navigate this complex regulatory landscape, the outcome of these discussions and the appeal hearing will be closely watched by the global tech and gaming industries.
Microsoft-Activision Blizzard Merger: Timeline of Latest Events
In late March 2023, Microsoft's proposed merger with Activision Blizzard gained approval from regulators in Japan, marking a significant step forward in the global approval process for the deal. Shortly after, Activision Blizzard reached a settlement over accusations of financially punishing esports teams, removing another potential hurdle for the merger.
By mid-May, the European Commission gave its approval for the merger, with Microsoft committing to enhance competition in the cloud-based gaming market. Despite ongoing antitrust scrutiny, Microsoft gained China's unconditional approval for the merger in late May, even as Activision Blizzard ceased many game offerings in mainland China due to a dispute with its local publishing partner.
However, the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked the merger, leading Microsoft to officially appeal the decision in late May. Microsoft argued that the CMA's decision was unreasonable and discouraged technology innovation and investment in the UK. As of the end of May, Microsoft's appeal with the UK's CMA is heading for a resolution in the summer, with both parties seeking a quick resolution. The appeal is likely to be heard in July.