Facebook acquisition of Giphy faces in-depth competition probe in UK

The logos of Facebook and Giphy.

Aytac Unal | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

LONDON — Britain’s competition regulator said Thursday that it was referring Facebook’s acquisition of GIF database Giphy for an in-depth investigation.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently completed its initial probe into the Facebook-Giphy merger — which has already closed — concluding that the deal raises competition concerns.

The watchdog says it found evidence that Giphy had plans to expand its digital advertising partnerships to the U.K. and other markets before the deal was reached. It believes Giphy’s combination with Facebook would mean the firm has less incentive to expand its digital ads business, leading to a potential loss of competition.

The CMA gave the companies five working days to address its concerns about the deal but Facebook refused to do so, the watchdog said.

“We will continue to fully cooperate with the CMA’s investigation,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.

“This merger is good for competition and in the interests of everyone in the UK who uses GIPHY and our services — from developers to service providers to content creators.”

Giphy is one of the world’s top libraries for GIFs, animated images involving memes or pop culture references that are shared on the internet. It competes with the likes of Google-owned GIF platform Tenor and the start-up Gfycat.

Though both Giphy and Facebook are headquartered in the U.S., the CMA has the power to investigate mergers when the business being acquired has annual revenues of at least £70 million ($96.5 million) or when the combined businesses have at least a 25% share of any “reasonable” market.

The CMA is expected to conclude its Facebook-Giphy probe by Sept. 15. The deal is also being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

– CNBC’s Sam Shead contributed to this report.

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