On Thursday internet retailer-giant Amazon announced it would no longer be carrying Apple or Google streaming devices. Their reason may not surprise you.
According to Bloomberg, the email Amazon sent to its marketplace sellers said they were halting the sales of those streaming devices at the end of the month because those devices don’t “interact well” with Amazon’s own streaming platform, Amazon Prime.
“It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion,” said the email.
It’s a move that will likely infuriate many, both as providers and consumers of Amazon’s services. As Slate reports, Amazon is just hoping it pays off:
Of course, there’s the minor catch that not everyone who shops online is an Amazon Prime customer with a vested interest in easy access to Amazon’s streaming content. Fewer than 20 percent, in fact. But where those consumers might see an inconvenience, Amazon has surely identified a conversion opportunity—prevent them from purchasing Apple TVs and Google Chromecasts, and maybe more will switch their loyalties to Prime.
It will be interesting to see whether Amazon’s move with regard to streaming content raises any antitrust flags. Generally speaking, a company has breached antitrust laws when it has a monopoly and uses that monopoly to stifle competition. Amazon blocking sales of Apple and Google streaming devices would certainly suggest competition stifling, but is Amazon’s chunk of the market great enough to make that illegal? What even is the market here?
Unsurprisingly, that’s a complicated question for antitrust lawyers to figure out.
“One of the hardest issues in antitrust cases is defining the relevant market. That’s what plaintiffs and their counsel spend months and years trying to prove in cases like this,” said Jay Levine, editor of the Antitrust Law Source. “Amazon is a retail outlet, and Google and Apple are now foreclosed from selling their products from that competitive outlet. But the possibilities have broadened, and put a lot into play as all these companies are competing on many different levels.”
Levine notes that Apple, at least, has other options to sell its products, and while Google doesn’t have the same brick-and-mortar that Apple does, it does technically have other outlets. But it wouldn’t be out of the box for there to be some sort of antitrust claim here—in fact, it’d be just a drop in the bucket.
“We’ve already seen this trend, where the lines get blurred, and there’s no distinct market in the way we used to be able to talk about it a decade or two ago. Everything’s fuzzier now that technology has advanced to the point that any given company can compete on any different point in the spectrum,” said Levine.
If that were to happen, it would be more of the usual for Amazon, who’s been embattled with antitrust claims from the publishing industry, where in July booksellers and authors demanded the DOJ investigate Amazon’s use of its dominance to “impoverish the book industry as a whole.”
Though as of press time no one has made any legal action, Levine acknowledges that there’s a chance it’ll happen.
“It’s certainly adding some sticks to the fire. Whether this produces a raging fire or not remains to be seen,” said Levine. “Anytime you look at an antitrust issue, you have to look at whatever options are available. So the question here is: Is selling through Amazon a necessary tool for competition? If it is then there may be problems…but hardnose competition doesn’t mean it’s an antitrust violation.”