Mr. Smith is going to Washington — and the hope is to get Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision cleared by the feds.
Microsoft President Brad Smith is planning to meet with the Federal Trade Commission’s three Democratic members on Wednesday in a last-ditch bid to keep the tech giant’s blockbuster video-game deal from getting scrapped over antitrust concerns, The Post has learned.
Smith and a small group of his attorneys are slated to meet individually with FTC Chair Lina Khan — who is said to be skeptical of the tie-up and who this summer pledged to scrutinize the deal over its impact on workers — as well as Democratic commissioners Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya, according to sources close to the situation.
On Sunday, The Post exclusively reported that at least one Democrat on the four-member panel has recently taken a sympathetic view of the merger — with insiders speculating it might be Slaughter — potentially paving the way for it to get approved. Republican FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson has already voiced support of the deal.
Sources said Microsoft’s Smith is scrambling to win over the powerful panel in a hurry — partly because Khan is pregnant and expected to go on maternity leave next month.
“Chair Khan is expecting a baby in January and will take a short parental leave before quickly returning to her duties,” FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar said. “The idea that any possible law enforcement actions by the Commission could be affected by her pregnancy is sexist and absurd speculation with absolutely no basis in reality.”
The FTC’s commissioners are slated for a closed-door meeting on Thursday to discuss the merger and there’s an outside chance they could vote on it, sources said.
The panel also could meet to vote on the deal later this month. Microsoft had believed the FTC would make its final ruling in the first quarter of 2023 but the FTC review has lately moved at a faster pace than it expected, the source said.
An Activision spokesman declined to comment. Microsoft also declined to comment.
Sources said Smith — who on Monday wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing for the deal — will stress that Microsoft is now offering rival Sony a 10-year licensing deal for Activision games including “Call of Duty” on its PlayStation consoles, and that the games would be released to them at the same time it becomes available on Microsoft’s Xbox.
Sony’s concern is Microsoft by owning a leading console maker and a maker of popular video games could have too much market power.
Separately this week, the Communications Workers of America said it supported the deal as news broke that 300 workers at Microsoft gaming studio ZeniMax are voting this month on forming Microsoft’s first union.
CWA said the merger would give Microsoft and Activision Blizzard workers a clear path to collective bargaining and unionization in what it considers a major Microsoft concession. The politically influential union is saying the deal is good for workers and they will be hurt if the FTC sues to block the merger.
As reported by The Post, a fellow Democrat supporting the Microsoft deal could create a difficult path to block the deal for FTC Chair Khan — who according to insiders has eyed Microsoft’s deal as a major target as she looked to burnish her credentials as a trustbuster of Big Tech.
That’s because a 2-2 vote would not only fail to block the deal, but also would result in it getting cleared without any major conditions imposed by a settlement, including the concessions it has recently pledged to Sony.
FTC’s staff was reportedly close to recommending a suit to block the deal, but that was reportedly before the Microsoft floated its settlement offer.
Microsoft has agreed to pay $95 a share for Activision. Its shares were trading Tuesday at $76.11
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