U.K. competition watchdog examines eOne-Hasbro deal

Competition and Markets Authority said it will consider whether the proposed deal will lead to a "substantial lessening of competition" within the U.K. market.

U.K. competition watchdog Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to examine Hasbro’s proposed $5.3-billion cash acquisition of eOne.

The London-based regulator, which frequently investigates mergers, said Thursday it will consider whether the deal could lead to a “substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services.”

When it was first announced in August, eOne and Hasbro said the transaction was expected to close in Q4. Under the proposed deal, eOne, which is headquartered in Toronto and trades on the London Stock Exchange, will operate as a division within Hasbro, with the U.S. toy company taking ownership of preschool brands such as Peppa Pig (pictured), PJ Masks and Ricky Zoom, as well as eOne’s film, TV and music business.

With CMA scrutinizing the deal, it appears likely the timeline for closure of the transaction will be delayed. Phase one of the process, which opens tomorrow (Nov. 22), will see CMA invite interested parties to comment on the proposed deal. The call for comments will close on Dec. 5, with CMA set to announce on Jan. 21 whether or not a second phase will be required.

If CMA deems the deal could result in a lessening of competition, it will launch an in-depth assessment (phase two). In its merger assessment guide, CMA notes that merging parties may offer to modify aspects of the deal in order to “remedy” any competition concerns associated with the deal.

In recent years, CMA has also investigated Comcast’s acquisition of Sky, which was completed in summer 2018. As part of the examination, CMA said that the merger proposal (in its original form) was not in the public interest and would put too much power in the hands of the Murdoch family. Ofcom, another U.K. regulator, also expressed concerns over the Comcast-Sky deal, which was completed after a number of other conditions were met.

In Canada, the eOne-Hasbro deal was approved by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last month. Five days before that, eOne shareholders voted unanimously in favour of the deal.