The CMA has accepted commitments from ATG Media, the largest provider of online auction sites in the UK, to bring an end to practices which it considered hinders competition from rival bidding platforms (press release and decision here and here).
ATG’s Live Online Bidding (LOB) platforms cover a wide range of markets, including: antiques and art; industrial and insolvency; and construction and agricultural equipment.
LOB platforms are aggregators that host live auctions run by multiple auction houses. They aim to attract both individual bidders and auction houses to list live auctions. Traditionally live bidding was available only by attending in person or by telephone.
The CMA’s investigation began in November 2016 and focused on three practices:
- obtaining exclusive deals with auction houses, so that they do not use other providers;
- preventing auction houses getting a cheaper online bidding rate with other platforms through Most Favoured Nation clauses; and
- preventing auction houses promoting or advertising rival live online bidding platforms in competition with ATG Media.
In order to bring the investigation to an end ATG has given the CMA legally binding commitments under the Competition Act 1998 to stop all three practices.
The CMA’s Annual Plan 2017/18 (here) stresses the importance of digital markets in its enforcement priorities: “Online aspects of markets have become a major focus of our work, as many industries have become more digital in how they trade, raising important questions of policy and law.”
Online platforms (particularly those with market power) are likely to face increased scrutiny as competition authorities across the world focus ever more of their resources on the digital economy.