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Artist groups oppose Liberty Media’s iHeartMedia move

A number of artist and consumer advocacy groups have urged the US Department of Justice to block Liberty Media’s potential move to take over radio company iHeartMedia, stating the move would give the media giant too much of a competitive advantage in the music industry.

Liberty Media holds a 34.2 per cent stake in entertainment giant Live Nation. It also has a majority stake in broadcasting company Sirius XM and owns the Formula One motor-racing series.

Liberty Media already owns a 4.8-per-cent stake in iHeartMedia and the New York Post newspaper reported in December that the US Department of Justice was considering blocking a move by the company to step up its involvement with iHeartMedia.

The Post, citing sources close to the matter, reported that Liberty Media would be unlikely to push forward with an offer to acquire iHeartMedia while lawyers considered the potential “anticompetitive implications” of a deal. The Post’s report came after the Wall Street Journal had previously reported that Liberty was seeking the DOJ’s approval to go ahead with the deal.

Various groups have this week expressed their opposition to the deal, with an open letter having been penned to the DOJ and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The letter was signed by the American Economic Liberties Project, Artist Rights Alliance, Centre for Digital Democracy, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Open Markets Institute and Public Citizen.

“Musicians, songwriters, and performers depend upon a vibrant, competitive media ecosystem to find and reach fans and audiences and earn fair compensation for their work,” the letter read. “On behalf of musicians, songwriters, and performers and groups that oppose corporate concentration, we urge you to reject this massively overreaching effort to monopolise music radio in this country.”

The letter added: “Liberty’s 33 per cent stake in Live Nation/Ticketmaster also gives the company substantial influence in the live performance and ticketing sector. Live Nation also has a hand in artist representation, managing 500 artists as of 2016. The Department is familiar with the anti-competitive practices of the events/ticketing portion of Liberty’s business, having just settled substantial antitrust claims based on the company’s forcing concert venues into using its ticketing product and other apparent violations. That settlement extended the original Live Nation/Ticketmaster consent decree for five years and imposed significant additional conditions.

“In sum, with its current holdings, Liberty already has amassed monopoly control of the satellite radio market, substantial control over the concert/live performance market, and ownership of one of the top three music streaming companies.”

The letter said that the potential impact on radio markets is “evident and likely catastrophic, removing competitive discipline across multiple market segments”.