ICLE Comments on Department of Justice Workshop on Competition in Television and Digital Advertising
The Department should be commended for undertaking this workshop “to explore industry dynamics in media advertising and the implications for antitrust enforcement and policy…. and the competitive dynamics of media advertising in general.” The competitive dynamics of advertising markets—and digital advertising markets, in particular—are complicated and not well-understood. As more and more attention is paid to online markets and the welfare implications of various practices, it is crucial that enforcers make measured and informed decisions. As these are rapidly changing markets characterized by novel business models and nonstandard contracts, it is important not to fall prey to the concern that Ronald Coase pointed out half a century ago:
[I]f an economist finds something—a business practice of one sort or another—that he does not understand, he looks for a monopoly explanation. And as in this field we are very ignorant, the number of ununderstandable practices tends to be very large, and the reliance on a monopoly explanation, frequent.
Economic learning has come a long way since then, but markets have also been transformed. This workshop is a valuable step toward updating the economic learning relevant to these novel and economically important markets, and toward ensuring that antitrust enforcement follows suit. As Robert Bork said (and AAG Delrahim quoted in his introductory remarks):
Though the goals of the antitrust statutes as they now stand should be constant, the economic rules that implement that goal should not. It has been understood from the beginning that the rules will and should alter as economic understanding progresses.
We hope that this workshop will be the beginning, not the end, of this discussion undertaken by the US antitrust agencies.