By Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter
One day last spring, Makan Delrahim was checking in on the day’s news when a story about the Oscars caught his eye. Steven Spielberg was said to be pushing the film Academy to ban from eligibility any movie that premiered on a streaming service rather than in theaters. At the time, Netflix had just won three awards for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, and the company was forced to defend its Oscars.
That seemed unfair to Delrahim, 50, who in addition to leading the U.S. Department of Justice’s powerful Antitrust Division also happens to be a former movie producer. He says nobody associated with the streaming giant pressured him; he simply felt compelled to do something, so he fired off a letter to Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and warned her that the discussed restriction could amount to a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits “collusive” agreements aimed at suppressing competition. Delrahim didn’t specify how Oscars eligibility would interfere with the marketplace for movies, although it was fairly clear that he saw Spielberg’s effort as part of a plot with greater significance.
“I wanted to ensure that a group of the establishment incumbents didn’t force changes to those rules to disadvantage potential new distribution models that would harm consumers or filmmakers,” says Delrahim, speaking in his office at DOJ headquarters in Washington, adding that he was satisfied with the Academy’s response. “Ultimately they kept the existing rules and did not change them to disadvantage Netflix and Amazon or other streaming services. I basically wanted to remind them that the antitrust laws could apply.”
As the entertainment industry races to scale itself up to compete with Big Tech, and as Apple, Google and Jeff Bezos’ Amazon spend increasingly large sums on premium content, Delrahim has become as potent a business gatekeeper in Washington as anyone not named Donald Trump. He’s refereeing mammoth mergers, including the $105 billion tie-up between AT&T and Time Warner, and Walt Disney Co.’s $71 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox. He’s reevaluating licensing rules that have governed the movie and music businesses for nearly three-quarters of a century. He’s even taken an interest in the Writers Guild’s nasty fight with talent agencies. Perhaps more than anyone in the Trump administration, his perspective about what’s considered anticompetitive (or not) at a transformational moment will shape the future of the content industry.