Confirmed? No. But sure feels that way.
As Google and Microsoft execs head to Washington to plead their respective cases, a Microsoft-funded 51-page “research paper” on the legal aspects of the fight is making the rounds. (PaidContent has a brief summary). Google will likely argue that the paper might as well have been produced by Microsoft’s legal department, and it might as well have been, so the actual legal details remain unclear.
But here’s a layman’s take, one that is apparently gaining traction in Washington, the EU, Australia, and elsewhere:
One key argument in support of the deal, that “paid search” and “display” are two different businesses, is bogus. Why? In part because Google itself sells search and display exactly the same way (PPC). In part because some “display” ads look just like paid search ads. In part because the whole premise of AdSense for Content is that web users won’t have to bother “searching” to find the ads–they’ll appear next to what the users are already interested in. In part because Google’s closest competitor, misfiring Yahoo, treats all web advertising as a single business. In part because search and display ads sometimes appear on the same pages. Even the distinction between selling “technology” and “advertising” is a subtle one. From an outside perspective, it’s all just web advertising.
If the Microsoft-funded paper’s most basic premise is correct, the market share of the combined Google-DoubleClick will exceed 50% (52% to be precise)–above the “warning level” for anti-trust cases. And Microsoft’s argument, that it’s all just web advertising, makes more intuitive sense, especially to those who aren’t immersed in this industry.
Microsoft is no stranger to getting deals killed by anti-trust concerns, and its lobbying efforts here are working. Regardless of the actual legal merits of Google’s position, if any, Microsoft’s argument is more persuasive. If Google had bought DoubleClick three years ago, when it could barely give itself away, the deal would have sailed through. Now, however, it seems that Microsoft may finally win one.