The truth is often stranger than fiction.
In this season of the hit HBO show Succession , viewers are subjected not just to the business antics of the troubled Roy family but also to politicians and regulatory agencies using their power to rein in the firm’s activities and acquisitions.
Though it is a work of fiction, the writers obviously take inspiration from the present: a CEO patriarch, a global media empire, anti-corporate populist politicians, and crackdowns from agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.
As a thought experiment, how would contemporary regulatory agencies deal with the ascension of the Roy clan and their many businesses? If the latest season is any indication — cue the standard spoiler alert — there would be as much activity in the fictional Roy boardroom as in the halls of the very real FTC.
After the death of the CEO family patriarch Logan Roy, his two sons Kendall and Roman ascend to co-CEO positions at the Waystar RoyCo conglomerate and must deliver (per their father’s wishes) a shaky acquisition of the Swedish tech streaming platform known as GoJo.
In the show, Waystar is a major corporate behemoth composed of newspapers, video games, publishing, news networks, a film studio, theme parks, a cruise line, a streaming platform, and a telecom company with a less-than-stellar rocket ship launch record.
Even though much of the regulatory heat on the company in previous seasons has been focused on bad behavior regarding its cruise lines, we do see the antitrust hammer wielded by Sen. Gil Eavis, our fictional blend of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). In the show, it’s over whether the company’s national news network should be able to purchase local news stations. This senator wants the government to intervene.
On these facts alone, it’s not a stretch to see how FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan would take significant action against Waystar’s acquisitions.
Her neo-Brandeisian philosophy on antitrust, which aims to dismantle corporate power based on market share and business structure, rather than consumer welfare, would mean Waystar’s actions would certainly get forceful disapproval from the regulator, if not a set of punitive rulemaking to try to slow it down.
The FTC under Khan’s leadership has already attempted to halt several high-profile acquisitions on a much smaller scale: Microsoft’s purchase of video game company Activision and Meta’s acquisition of the VR fitness app Within.
Waystar’s significant holdings would not only be fodder for the Khan FTC but would likely make them the chief antagonist of her entire tenure, much like we see with the various actions, consent decrees, and heightened alert around tech giant Meta and its business dealings.
In the latest season, attention turns to the Swedish streaming giant GoJo — a fictional blend of Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon Prime — and whether the Roy brothers should consider selling off Waystar’s assets to the eccentric tech billionaire Lukas Matsson. The brothers, later unconvinced of the deal, aim to stoke regulatory flames to stall and eventually kill the deal.
In truth, if patterns of the present were applied to the silver screen, the FTC’s focus would be exclusively on GoJo rather than the Roys — either for its acquisition by Waystar or the other way around.
As an innovative tech company with dozens of products, reach to billions of consumers, and a business model that relies on advertising and partnerships, the fictional GoJo (Swedish or not) would represent everything this current FTC, and most in the Democratic Senate, have sought to quash.
In a lasting bit of irony, Lina Khan’s FTC would likely share the same goals as the fictional billionaire Roy brothers: to destroy the GoJo acquisition and make sure consumers are “protected” from innovative companies trying to get an edge.
Whether it be the FTC’s proposed hamstringing of AI firms to prevent “ online harm ,” blocking acquisitions of companies that quickly screen cancers or provide healthcare data to insurers, or using left-leaning interpretations of antitrust law to stop mergers that would bring benefits to users of gaming, VR, and social media (Activison, Within, etc.), consumers are being kept from real innovations that would improve their lives. When will consumers have a say?
Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.
Published in the Washington Examiner (archive link).