Commentary

Google's Antitrust Settlement In France Should Embolden Publishers

Google is said to be close to settling an antitrust case in France that resulted from a complaint brought by several publishers that accused the search giant of abusing its power in the online advertising market. The settlement should embolden publishers that have fretted over the possibility their digital ad inventories are undervalued in auctions.

France's Competition Authority claimed Google's ad server, which had been called DoubleClick for Publishers, gave an advantage to AdX, the company's exchange that brings together buyers and sellers of digital ads, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The possibility of a settlement with French authorities comes as Google faces antitrust scrutiny of its business of brokering ad sales in other regions, including the United States, United Kingdom and European Union. After Australia passed a law aimed at forcing tech companies to pay publishers for their journalism, Google this year reached a deal with news publishers in the country to license their content in its News Showcase.

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Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which was founded in Australia and has criticized Google for its role in the digital ad market, was among the publishers to support the country's law. It's no coincidence that it leads the effort against Google in France. In 2019, the company teamed up with French newspaper Le Figaro and Belgian media company Groupe Rossel to file a complaint against the tech giant, the WSJ reported.

The terms of the settlement with French authorities await approval, but there are hints of how it will affect publishers. Google is likely to make AdX more interoperable with ad servers from other companies and remove some obstacles for competitors in France, though the changes may also apply outside the country. That outcome suggests publishers may have more flexibility in their auctions of ad space.

The complaints against Google have helped to force the company to negotiate with publishers on licensing their content. Le Figaro withdrew from the case against Google after it reached a deal with French publishers in November to pay them for content. Rather than press Google to change its ad-tech operations, Le Figaro opted to focus on its copyrights.

News Corp in February reached a three-year licensing deal with Google, but is still the lead complainant in the French antitrust case, the WSJ reported.

The terms of Google's possible settlement with French authorities may be favorable for publishers, and at the very least indicate that antitrust regulators are sympathetic to their claims. Ideally, publishers will be better equipped to monetize their content as a result.

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