The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently investigated a number of online selling practices. In its most recent decision, the CMA closed a case concerning the use of live online bidding platforms, after accepting commitments from a provider of these services, ATG Media, to change its behaviour. This case should interest any user or provider of similar services in other industries.

ATG Media is the largest provider of live online bidding platforms in the UK, including “The Saleroom” — an arts and antiques platform. Auction houses use these platforms to facilitate online live bidding without bidders having to attend in person.

The CMA launched an investigation into three of ATG Media’s practices that CMA considered potentially anti-competitive because they prevented or discouraged customers from using rival platforms:

  • obtaining exclusive deals with auction houses, so they do not use other providers;
  • preventing auction houses from getting cheaper online bidding rates with other platforms for their bidders — through contract clauses known as most-favoured nation (MFN) or price parity clauses; and
  • preventing auction houses from promoting or advertising rival live online bidding platforms in competition with ATG Media.

Without admitting any infringement of competition law, ATG Media gave legally binding promises to the CMA to discontinue these practices for a period of five years. The CMA therefore closed its investigation.