Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Vertical Integration in Movie Distribution

A new paper, "Vertical Integration and Market Foreclosure in Media Markets: Evidence from the Chinese Motion Picture Industry," by Gil et al. casts even further doubt on vertical foreclosure strategies. The claim is that a retailer integrated with a producer could increase profits by disadvantaging independent producers. Alternatively, vertical integration could alleviate double marginalization issues so that profits increase by offering lower prices to more consumers. In the US, the Paramount decision required movie studios to divest their movie theaters based on the possible competitive harm from vertical foreclosure. But China still has both integrated and independent theaters.

... there is no evidence consistent with anticompetitive input and customer foreclosure in integrated theaters. On the one hand, integrated and independent theaters screen the same share of integrated and independent movies. On the other hand, revenue differences between continued theater-owned movies and discontinued independent movies are inconsistent with customer-market-foreclosure motives given existing differences in distribution incentives between integrated and nonintegrated structures.

The authors go on to estimate that integrated theaters deliver a higher level of utility with integrated movies due to moving down the demand curve with lower prices.

This finding is important to current events in antitrust policy for two reasons. Part of the FTC's current Amazon case, as with its other enforcement vertical actions, alleges foreclose of independent merchants. Movie distribution was the poster child for this theory. More broadly, it underscores the power of a consumer surplus standard. Why interpret the law so severely that it harms consumers?

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