What just happened? Just when it looked as if Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard was about to be completed, the FTC has revived its attempt to block the $69 billion deal. The agency said it will resume its in-house trial against the takeover after pausing the process over the summer.
In an order issued on Wednesday, the FTC said public interest warrants that the Commission move forward with its adjudicative process related to the deal. This allows a party to settle or contest the charges. If they contest the case, it is heard before an administrative law judge in a trial-type proceeding.
It was back in December last year when the FTC filed administrative action to stop Microsoft from acquiring Activision Blizzard. On June 12, the organization filed an injunction in a federal court to prevent the deal from being finalized.
The request was denied by the US District Court for the Northern District of California in July; the judge said the FTC had not shown evidence that the takeover would harm competition in the gaming market. The FTC requested that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals review the decision, but the watchdog later withdrew its complaint, which it has now reinstated.
In its latest move, the agency has ordered a new evidentiary hearing to commence 21 days after the Ninth Circuit gives its opinion on the appeal.
"The FTC continues to believe this deal is a threat to competition," said FTC spokesperson Victoria Graham. She added that the FTC is placing the issue on the Commission's calendar, but that "our current focus is on the federal appeal process."
The timing of the decision will likely come as an annoyance to Microsoft. It was only last week that the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which had previously blocked the deal, gave its provisional approval. Microsoft had assuaged the regulator's concerns by transferring the cloud streaming rights for all current and new Activision Blizzard PC and console games released over the next 15 years to Ubisoft.
As reported by Bloomberg, Microsoft might not be overly concerned about the move scuppering its purchase. While the FTC can technically continue to challenge the deal after it closes, it's unlikely to prevent the acquisition from going through by the October 18 deadline.