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6/15/2007
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Microsoft, Yahoo Also Face Antitrust Review For Ad Buy Deals

Proposed online-advertising company purchases by Google and others are keeping FTC acquisition reviewers busy.

Google isn't the only company facing antitrust scrutiny as a consequence of the acquisition of an Internet advertising company. Microsoft and Yahoo are getting the once-over too.

Microsoft's $6 billion purchase of aQuantive and Yahoo's $680 million purchase of the 80% of Right Media not already owned are being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Competition as required by the 1976 Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. The FTC conducts such reviews as a matter of course to make sure mergers and acquisitions do not lessen competition.

"As part of the normal regulatory review process, the FTC has opened a routine, 30-day review period following the filing we submitted on the aQuantive acquisition," said Microsoft spokesperson Jack Evans in an e-mailed statement.

Representatives from Yahoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some 95% of such reviews are cleared within 30 days, said Deborah Platt Majoras, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, in a February 2006 announcement. In the remaining cases, the FTC issues a "second request" seeking additional documents deemed necessary to evaluate proposed deals under antitrust laws.

Internet ad firm Real Media today said that the Hart-Scott-Rodino waiting period expired this week without a request for additional information from antitrust regulators, clearing the way for WPP Group's planned acquisition of the company to proceed.

AOL did not immediately respond to a request for information about the status of its acquisition of Adtech, another Internet ad firm.

Google, in a May 29 SEC filing, indicated that the FTC "has issued a request for additional information and documentary materials regarding the proposed acquisition of [DoubleClick]."

This suggests that Google may be required to make some antitrust concessions in order to secure approval for its DoubleClick deal, which was announced in April. Privacy and consumer groups have voiced opposition to the deal.

Between 1998 and 2005, "the majority of the investigations in which the FTC issued a second request resulted in a merger challenge, consent order, or modification to the transaction, suggesting that the FTC generally issues second requests only when there is a strong possibility that some aspect of a transaction would violate the antitrust laws," said Majoras last year.

During those eight years, 44% to 78% of companies asked for additional information faced some type of enforcement action.

In May, Don Harrison, senior corporate counsel for Google, said in an e-mailed statement, "We are confident that upon further review the FTC will conclude that this acquisition poses no risk to competition and should be approved."

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