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Industry's relationship with EU regulators becomes increasingly complicated

Mobile operators and media companies are increasingly pursuing partnerships in attempts to stay relevant in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

To achieve this, they argue regulators need to create a level playing field in the content industry between online-only and traditional players. At the same time, Europe's industry bodies continue to call for a light-touch regulatory approach.

These opposing motives – and what they mean for dealmaking in uncertain times - were on show throughout the FT Future of Media and Telecoms conference in London on June 8.

Mobile operators increasingly compete head to head with technology rivals such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google, both of which operate at an entirely different level, Vodafone UK CEO Vittorio Colao told delegates.

For instance, Amazon recently announced the launch of Amazon Channels in the United Kingdom and Germany, as the battleground for online video in Europe heats up. Analysts said Amazon's move raises the stakes for the rest of the subscription video on demand market.

Similarly, Colao believes Amazon's foray into the hotly contested pay TV market, along with the hands-free Amazon Echo speaker, which is powered by Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa, makes the Seattle-based company "one to watch" in the months ahead.

But as convergence gains momentum, a hardening approach toward industry mega mergers from EU competition authorities remains a key issue among industry bosses.

Wading into the debate, Millicom International Cellular SA's CEO Mauricio Ramos, agreed operators' relationship with regulators is "getting more complicated." His comments come on the heels of a joint statement by a group of cross-industry associations expressing concern about the current regulatory approach on telecoms reform.

Moreover, the content industry in the U.K. faces issues of its own, including apprehension over Brexit's impact on the advertising industry.

Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV Plc, has been hit particularly hard by sliding advertising revenues. That said, the company appears set to remain a major consolidator in the market.

"There is no doubt in my mind there's going to be more consolidation… more convergence," ITV's outgoing CEO Adam Crozier told delegates.

Crozier also played down rumors the free-to-air broadcaster itself may be heading for a sale and argued short-term issues had undervalued its stock.

Speculation over ITV's long-rumored takeover emerged after the announcement of Crozier's departure put the company's long-term direction into question. Several analysts have identified U.S. cable giant Liberty Global plc, which owns a 9.9% stake in ITV, as an obvious potential bidder.

Despite this, Crozier signaled the company would remain acquisitive.

ITV has been a consolidator and has grown its business through M&A over the years and that's what it should focus on, he concluded.