Microsoft President Brad Smith calls UK regulator “tough and fair” after Activision Blizzard deal approval

Microsoft President Brad Smith had some harsh words for the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last year when the regulator blocked Microsoft’s massive $68.7 billion deal with Activision Blizzard. He criticized the CMA, stating that confidence in the UK had been severely shaken. Smith went as far as to say that the European Union is a more attractive place to start a business than the UK. However, in a recent interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Smith had a change of tone and described the CMA as “tough and fair.”

Reflecting on his previous remarks, Smith acknowledged that he might have been too harsh in his criticism of the CMA and the UK. While he wouldn’t necessarily step back from all the concerns he raised, Smith admitted that he would choose different words to express his point. This shift in perspective shows a willingness to introspect and learn from past mistakes.

The CMA played a pivotal role in forcing Microsoft to restructure its deal with Activision Blizzard. As a result, Microsoft had to give up key cloud gaming rights not only in the UK but also in many other markets worldwide. Despite the significant changes to the deal, Smith commended the CMA for holding a tough standard and implementing fair measures. He expressed respect for the regulator’s role in pushing Microsoft to make necessary adjustments.

While Smith may have shifted his stance, it is clear that the CMA was not impressed with Microsoft’s tactics throughout the process. CMA CEO Sarah Cardell warned businesses and their advisors that Microsoft’s approach was not the way to engage with the CMA. She stated that Microsoft had the opportunity to restructure the deal during the initial investigation but chose not to, insisting on measures that the CMA deemed ineffective. This strained relationship highlights the importance of open communication and collaboration between businesses and regulators.

Following several months of regulatory scrutiny worldwide, Microsoft made concessions to the CMA, allowing the deal to finally close in October. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US is still pursuing its case against Microsoft’s deal. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to make a decision on an appeal in the FTC v. Microsoft case soon. Additionally, the FTC is pursuing a separate administrative case, which is set to begin shortly after the appeal decision unless the FTC chooses to abandon its case.

Microsoft President Brad Smith’s shift in tone and acknowledgment of the CMA’s role as a tough and fair regulator serves as a lesson in self-reflection and adaptability. It highlights the importance of respecting regulatory bodies and understanding the need for adjustments in deals to meet their standards. The strained relationship between Microsoft and the CMA emphasizes the significance of effective communication and collaboration when navigating complex deals and regulatory processes.

Microsoft’s restructuring of the Activision Blizzard deal and subsequent approval by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority showcased a change in attitude from Microsoft President Brad Smith. By acknowledging the CMA as “tough and fair,” Smith demonstrated a willingness to learn from his previous criticism. The role of the CMA in restructuring the deal and its remarks about Microsoft’s tactics shed light on the importance of respectful engagement between businesses and regulators. As the deal faces ongoing battles in the US, this situation serves as a reminder of the need for adaptability and open communication in navigating complex regulatory landscapes.


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