Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Tells Congress He’s Not Up On HBO Max Talks, But Using Leverage Is “Normal Business”

Associated Press

The current throwdown between Amazon and HBO Max got pulled into a tech titan hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday.

A member of a House subcommittee wondered why the Jeff Bezos company couldn’t rightfully be accused of a “structural conflict of interest” in negotiating terms as a video gatekeeper and a video competitor to the new streaming service.

“I’m not familiar with the details of those negotiations. As you said, they’re underway right now. I predict that the companies will eventually come to an agreement and I think this is kind of … two large companies negotiate agreements, kind of normal,” said Bezos in response to a question by Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law.

“Here’s why I pursue it, precisely because it is a large company and in a way they stand in for hundreds of thousands of much smaller companies who are even in a more disadvantageous position with respect to negotiating with you. I guess the general proposition you can speak to if you don’t know the detail of this [is] is it okay to negotiate not just for financial terms in having someone be part of your Fire unit but also to try to extract in that negotiation leverage with respect to getting content from them?” said Rankin.

“In general I think that when two companies are negotiating you are negotiating not just the amount of money that’s going to change hands but also what you are going to get in exchange for the amount of money. That is a very fundamental way the business works,” Bezos responded.

“You can see at least to outsiders that would look like a structural conflict of interest, like you’re using your control over access to people’s living rooms essentially, you’re using that in order to obtain leverage in terms of getting creative content that you want. And are you essentially converting power in one domain into power in another domain where it does not belong?”

Bezos offered to get the Congressman information “because I’m not familiar enough with this. And I could imagine that there could be scenarios if we’re just talking in the abstract where it could be  inappropriate and scenarios where it would be very normal business and very appropriate.”

WarnerMedia parent AT&T launched HBO Max in late May and it remais in a distribution standoff with Amazon Fire TV. AT&T CEO John Stankey charged on a earnings call this week that the tech giant is treating HBO Max differently than it does other third-party services.

“We’ve tried repeatedly to make HBO Max available to all customers using Amazon Fire devices, including those customers that have purchased HBO via Amazon. Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently than how they’ve chosen to treat other services and their customers,” he said.

HBO Max is not on Roku either, so between the two it’s unavailable for 80 million U.S. connected-TV households.

The hearing, which also featured the CEOs of Facebook, Apple and Google parent Alphabet, was meant to focus solely on antitrust concerns but as expected became a free for all about misdirected g-mails, hydroxychloroquine and anti-conservative bias business in China, police and digital advertising.

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