The U.K. Competition Authority ‘Wins,’ but Consumers Lose

“Competition regulators around the world are attacking some of the most successful and innovative entrepreneurs in the world—American companies. Strangely, they can’t seem to agree on what markets these companies are “monopolizing” or what they have done wrong. And regulators sometimes contradict each other with their complaints. 

The most recent example of this behavior comes from the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority. It decided to force Meta, the parent company of Facebook, to sell GIPHY—a popular tool that makes short, animated and looped videos (GIFs) that users love to share in their social media posts—to an “approved buyer.”

But were U.K. consumers harmed by the previous integration of this service? And will they be better off when a different, likely also large, company owns a mostly free online tool that people use for fun on social media? 

The short answers are no and no. Much like the dog that finally catches the car, this “win” for proponents of breaking up American tech businesses will actually be a loss for the consumers they’re supposed to protect. The U.K. decision will hurt the biggest benefactors of the GIPHY-Meta merger: creators and users. And because of the nature of many internet services, it is unlikely the impact will only be felt in the U.K.”

“So how does a Meta-GIPHY acquisition actually help consumers? It’s easy to think of it just as a fun way to drop Real Housewives into your text banter with friends or to show your fandom for a favorite sports team or artist. Users benefit from the ease of inserting these fun graphics through a service like GIPHY rather than having to create them on their own. Still, there are other GIF generators users could reach for, and they typically do when they can’t find what they want on GIPHY.

Social media users, however, are not GIPHY’s only consumers. Brands, creators, and artists use GIPHY to design digital products that increase the awareness of their brands. Since most of GIPHY is free, that allows folks to do so at a very low cost. Still, these same creators have many other options when it comes to how to gain similar awareness, such as Snap filters or Instagram stickers. And this current model has resulted in minimal costs for its clients.

However, with a new company purchasing the service, or if it is forced to go independent, GIPHY’s revenue model could completely change. Instead, GIPHY’s new owner could seek a pay-per-use each time a person posts a GIF or charge a subscription fee to users. Even if the pricing model doesn’t change, creators of sponsored content that supports GIPHY might not find as much value in a new owner or a less integrated service. They might then spend their resources elsewhere, leaving GIPHY to languish.

Given the lack of clear harm from a Meta-GIPHY merger, why did the U.K. decide to intervene? U.K. regulators feared that Meta was getting too big, and they wanted their “approved buyers” to own it instead. This “big is bad” rhetoric is especially ironic given that Meta is not the behemoth it once was.”

“There is a concerning, deeper message here, and in actions like the FTC’s decision to challenge Meta’s acquisition of Within, that is alarming for the future of free markets, innovation, and business. Regulators are telling successful American companies not to innovate without permission, and that even if an acquisition benefits consumers, it still may not be approved.”

“Do we want consumers to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, or do we want to permit politicians to prop up the companies they like, at the expense of American businesses?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *