Justice Department’s Google Suit Could Aid Broadcasters in Big Tech Battle

Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.
Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. (Image credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Justice Department is apparently giving broadcasters some help with one of their top Washington priorities — Big Tech's dominance as an ad platform.

As expected, the DOJ on Tuesday (January 24) said it was filing an antitrust suit against one of the biggest of Big Tech — Google parent Alphabet — over its online ad practices, a move that could lead to Google divesting its ad business and aid TV stations in what the National Association of Broadcasters has called Big Tech’s “stranglehold” on digital advertising and ad rates.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday that the suit was necessary to combat Google's 15-year record of anticompetitive, exclusionary and unlawful conduct in the automated ad tech sector to severely weaken, “if not destroy,” its competitors.

Garland said the U.S., as an advertiser, has incurred damages. The complaint seeks compensation, an injunction against challenged practices and divestitures.

According to CNBC, the suit alleges Google “sought to control all sides of the market,” realizing “it could become ‘the be-all, and end-all location for all ad serving,’ ” to the detriment of broadcast and print competitors for ad dollars and eyeballs.

NAB said, through senior communications strategist Alex Siciliano, that it's carefully reviewing the complaint. "For years, broadcasters have been sounding the alarm over the anti-competitive practices of the Big Tech platforms, including Google. Their dominant role in the marketplace has come at a steep price for local news broadcasters, who lose an estimated $2 billion annually by providing their content to these platforms under ‘take it or leave it’ terms. We continue to work with our congressional allies to address these inequities and urge Congress to move swiftly to level the playing field.” 

Reportedly the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia have joined the suit.

A Google spokesperson told CNBC: “DOJ is doubling down on a flawed argument that would slow innovation, raise advertising fees, and make it harder for thousands of small businesses and publishers to grow.”

It is the second antitrust suit the DOJ has filed against Google. The first was filed under the Trump administration in 2020 and claimed the company unlawfully maintained its search and search advertising monopoly through exclusionary practices. 

Also: Meta's Targeted Ad System Now Under Court Oversight

Earlier this month, Google critic and DOJ antitrust division chief Jonathan Kanter was reportedly cleared by the Justice Department to work on cases involving Google, something Alphabet had opposed given that past criticism.

As founding partner of the Kanter Law Group, his online biography boasted that he was “a leader in the effort to advocate for antitrust enforcement actions against big tech companies by federal and state authorities.”

Big Tech also wanted Biden-appointed Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan to have to recuse herself from antitrust-related Big Tech issues given her past criticisms, but that didn’t happen either.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members include a Who's Who of Big Tech, found the proposed remedies too much to swallow.

“Competition for advertising dollars is fierce both on and offline, growing even more so as the global ad market evolves with new competitors and technology,” it said. “The government’s contention that digital ads aren’t in competition with print, broadcast, and outdoor advertising defies reason.

“As an association that has supported government intervention in appropriate technology cases in the past, we find this lawsuit and the radical structural remedies that it proposes unjustified,” CCIA said. “Digital services are competing vigorously for advertising dollars on screens of all sizes, and the complaint appears to disregard these dynamics as well as the macro trends of the global ad market.”

Ditto the Big Tech-backed and funded trade group the Chamber of Progress, which was not pleased with the suit.

The chamber argued Google is not the dominant ad market platform DOJ supposes. “Google’s online ad market share is now at an all-time low, and it just laid off 12,000 employees in the midst of a declining advertising market —so this DOJ case seems pretty disconnected from economic reality,” said chamber CEO and former Google exec Adam Kovacevich. ▪️

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.