Follow Up: All Cash Or All Stock – The Battle Between Disney & Comcast For 21st Century Fox Assets

In a follow up to an earlier full-length piece on this same subject, the bidding war between two media titans: Comcast and Disney have intensified with the assets of 21st Century FOX clearly in the crosshairs.

The business news media outlets were all buzzing on Tuesday morning with the news that Comcast is looking to attempt a move in mergers & acquisitions known as “crashing the gate”. This maneuver involves putting together, through a variety of ways, a huge amount of cash to put a premium level bid on the table which will change the valuation of the assets involved (in this case FOX assets) to sway those involved to go with that bid over a competitive bid.

The Disney bid which has been known to the public for a while now involves an all stock proposal for the FOX assets. The shareholders of FOX would get Disney stock shares at a level commensurate with their level of involvement in FOX stock ownership. There is a formula for all stock bids of this type which I will not go into further detail, plenty of other writers have covered that component of this deal and have done amazing work in that area.

My focus is two-fold: the bids for this deal as it relates to other media acquisitions and the impact on the media industry which also relates back to the consumers. This method of “crashing the gate” that Comcast is now seeking to employ in this merger is somewhat risky. In past M&A activity it has either worked very well, or failed in spectacular fashion.

The contrasting strategy by Disney, the all stock bid, is a more traditional approach; it is an “old school” method which has a more reliable historical track record. The bid by Disney is seen as a very important acquisition in terms of content ownership in an increasingly competitive landscape.

It should be noted that Fox prefers the Disney bid because the all stock approach would be more favorable for their shareholders. The Comcast bid being all cash would create a scenario where Fox shareholders would have to pay taxes on that in the short term, which is not a desirable position for a corporation to have to pass along a tax increase to shareholders.

The backdrop to this is the impending launch of the Disney streaming app service where the company spent an immense amount of money developing the app which will be a subscription based streaming service. Disney needs the consumers to enroll in their subscription- based app in massive numbers to “break even” on the outlay of dollars they sunk into the project.

The best way to ensure the enrollment of that scale and magnitude is to have a very broad based and extensive content collection. Disney plans to pull their content off of Netflix, with whom they had a partnership to exclusively stream Disney content prior to their own app being developed. The potential acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets would provide a huge assortment of content for Disney to feature on their new streaming service.

Comcast is trying to also stay in prime position in the race for control of content in the new landscape of the television medium today. The efforts by Comcast to pull together a reported bid of $60 billion for the FOX assets is proof of their strategic importance to the media and cable TV giant.

However, according to Reuters and other outlets, the Comcast “crash the gate” strategy has one caveat that many find curious. Comcast will only pursue the full process of acquiring the FOX assets with an all cash bid if the banking and government entities involved in the AT&T bid for Time Warner allow that merger to take place.

Some found it strange that Comcast would make this request and would be that interested in the outcome of another merger within the industry. I thought about it and realized that Comcast is adding this caveat to the proposal because they want some legal precedent for a large scale merger of this type before they go “all in” on investing time and resources into taking it through the process.

The legal team for Comcast can use the decision in the AT&T / Time Warner merger to alleviate hurdles and a protracted legal suit with government ant-trust regulators if they have a precedent to utilize in their defense. The AT&T proposed merger with Time Warner has been tied up in courts for several months with significant costs to AT&T. Comcast does not want to fall victim to the same fate.

The case for Disney could be made because of the benefits of the all stock transaction but anti-trust oversight will be certainly a factor in either transaction whether it is Comcast or Disney with the winning bid.

However, in order to relieve some of that anti-trust scrutiny, Fox announced that they will take Fox News, Fox Business, and their cable sports division comprised of channels known as FS1 and FS2 ; and they will form a separate company that will be not part of this deal with either Disney or Comcast. The new company will be a spin-off of Fox and will have shares divided up among current Fox stockholders.

In my view, I was concerned about the cable news and cable sports divisions of the company being owned by either Disney (which owns ABC and ESPN) or Comcast (which owns NBC and NBC Sports). The major sports and news divisions would be run by one single entity if that spin-off company was not created. The impact on the viewer would have been significant and created concerns about the control of news and the cost of those cable subscriptions for both news and sports programming.

It remains to be seen what Comcast would plan to do with the content it could potentially wrestle control of from Disney that would represent the assets of the former 21st Century Fox properties. Comcast does not have a streaming app, but it could bolster the VOD (video on demand) offerings for their customers with such an acquisition.

The other industry rumor is that Comcast would seek to create a platform of channels that it could package out at lower rates to their subscribers as well as put together some sort of streaming package of channels like Hulu and YouTube have released recently.

Conversely, this brings about another potential issue with the Comcast bid, that it would benefit only the subscribers to Comcast cable services and not to the rest of the public. The same could be stated for Disney with their streaming app, but the argument could be made that everyone has the opportunity to join the app, but not everyone has the ability to become Comcast customers.

The precursor to the Disney app is the ESPN+ streaming app which just launched about a month ago. I was “grandfathered” into the ESPN+ membership because I held a subscription to MLS Live to watch all the soccer games from my days of covering the New York Red Bulls and the league.

The ESPN+ app is $4.99 per month and it is a tremendous value for a sports fan in my opinion. The amount of content on the app is robust and truly impressive. The ability to live stream games, watch archived games from earlier in a season, and the access to exclusive new programming is worth the cost. The average and the die hard sports fan would have several options and the addition of NHL hockey (which ESPN does not broadcast) streaming on the service is outstanding, especially with the Stanley Cup Playoff games currently ongoing.

A report from CNN later on Tuesday refuted some earlier reports saying that the Fox news and financial news assets would be spun off separately, but the sports division (FS1 and FS2) would go to the winning bid along with the other 21st Century Fox assets. That would be of interest to Disney to gain Fox Sports portfolio to bolster the ESPN+ app service even further.

The launch of the ESPN+ app was a smart business decision by Disney because if their streaming service is going to be on par or better than the ESPN+ service, then that could be a game changer for the industry, no pun intended.

The groundwork has been laid for a bidding war and it will be interesting to see what Disney will do and how they could counter this maneuver from Comcast. The viewers have a lot at stake as the cost that you pay for content could be impacted significantly but what transpires in the next several months.

Return To Football & Media Companies Protection Of Live Sports Content

The NFL preseason is already three weeks old, and college football will begin traditionally on Labor Day weekend; football is back and for many Americans that means that they have something to watch on TV again. The excitement for the start of both a new college football season as well as a new NFL football season is tempered by the continued movement of media companies to protect live sports content.

The trend towards eliminating cable television service, or “cord-cutting”, is gaining momentum each year as Americans look to trim the monthly expenses in order to pay for rising costs for other services, such as healthcare. The “cord-cutting” trend has been aided by the prevalence of streaming television products and platforms available to the consumer.

However, the consumer that is looking to still utilize “live TV” can do so through a few different pathways: HD antenna, streaming devices, and hybrid streaming services. The HD antenna is very simple: it attaches next to your TV and provides the broadcast channels within the mileage range on the box. The antenna would provide CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, CW, and PBS as well as a few more local stations.

The antenna would provide you access to live sports broadcast on the national networks, and would not include any games broadcast on cable television. This option would work very well for NFL football, and some college football games. It would be of little use to obtain access to any other major sports, other than an occasional game.

The local baseball, basketball, and hockey games are almost exclusively aired on cable regional sports networks or on national cable sports networks such as ESPN or NBC Sports Network. This leads us to option two: streaming devices.

The streaming device route or Smart TV route can provide access to a huge amount of live sports content, but most of that content is not free of charge. The NBA, NHL, and MLB all have streaming “apps” but they require a subscription to access. The streaming device route can also support “live streaming” of certain networks but most of that would require either a cable subscription or another type of payment arrangement to access that content.

The hybrid streaming device route would be a DirecTV now, Sling box, or a few other smaller services that allow for the content available on a very large package of channels to be viewed in other rooms in your home. This would require a subscription and at least one box connected from either a cable or satellite provider. This route may also require the purchase of additional equipment.

However, this setup would enable access to a significant amount of live sports content. The other service is through Hulu which will feature a package of channels for $40.00 per month which would allow for live streaming of network and cable television, including live sports.

The networks pay such a high premium for the live sporting events that it is, in some ways, understandable that they have put in place certain measures to make it more difficult to stream the content without a cable or satellite subscription. The challenge will be in adapting their content providing platforms to attract other audience/fan base demographics.

The younger generation is conditioned toward streaming versus watching any regular television programming. The advertising around some of the streaming services and apps can be a bit misleading. Some of the sports related streaming apps will give you access to certain content for free and require a fee or cable subscription for access to the most important content: the live game or archived game broadcasts.

The NFL has partnered with e-commerce giant, Amazon, to stream 10 games this year as part of the Thursday Night Football package. This exclusive opportunity with the NFL and their coveted live game content cost Amazon $50 million. The broadcasts are free for all those with an Amazon Prime membership which runs at $99.00 per year.

This agreement with Amazon is different than the agreement they had last year with Twitter for the Thursday night games because Twitter streamed them live for free to everyone with an account, Amazon requires a Prime membership for access. It will remain to be seen if that will have an impact on live stream viewership, either positively or negatively.

The future of sports content on TV, and other content on TV is trending more toward a structure where the consumer will pay to have all sorts of content streamed on a customized basis. The consumer access to a broad range of content will require membership to a wide range of services, similar to the premium channel cable TV subscriptions currently (HBO, Showtime, Starz, Encore). It is important to note that whatever service or method you use it is like the old adage: “there is no free lunch”.

A good example of this trend is the decision by Disney recently to end their partnership with Netflix to start their own streaming service. This translates into a scenario where in order to gain access to Disney content you will have to purchase their streaming service. I think that many other major media companies are going to follow suit.

The return to football means some exciting weekends relaxing with family and friends. It conjures up memories of past football weekends with the big college games on Saturday nights, and the CBS games at 4 o’clock on the East Coast with the aroma of a home cooked dinner in the background.

It is time for many of us to watch TV again, and I hope that this piece informed you on the best options that you have to access this content. I wish you all a happy and safe football season.

Television Wars: The Future of Home Entertainment

The rapid technological advancements in the mass media are causing a shift in the way in which the general public will utilize their home entertainment. The advent of Apple TV changed the landscape when it hit the market, and other streaming services and content providers are looking to continue to shape the market in the future.

 

In order to compete in the marketplace with Apple, Google launched their own product, Google TV, back in October 2010. In the years since then, the number of content providers and subscription services for the distribution of television programs and movies exploded. Google has since renamed their product after their “Chrome” product platform.

 

Now the landscape is crowded with systems such as Aveo, Roku, and Slingbox as well as subscription content providers in Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Direct Video. These products and services coupled with the telecom companies’ movement into the television market with products such as Verizon’s FIOS, and AT&T’s UVerse, and the television wars have officially begun.

 

All of this content is transmitted by a signal today, and these companies and service providers are going to compete for the right to send their signal to your home. It happens every day if you have cable television service through a company such as Comcast, and you receive calls and emails from Verizon trying to entice you to switch to their FIOS service.

 

“Binge watching”

 

I have written about the evolution in the medium of television in the past, but I was thinking about all of these changes again over the Christmas/ New Year’s holidays when I had some time to unwind and watch a couple of movies.

 

It is still incredible to me that through a service such as, Amazon Direct, you can watch whatever movie you want in their catalog, or you could “binge watch” a television series you may have never seen before from the start of the series all the way through to the end, in sequence, with no commercials.

 

This approach to watching a series is the new trend in television viewing, and the broadcast networks as well as the cable, satellite, and telecom providers are increasingly aware of this viewer preference. They are providing their viewers or subscribers with several different ways to “binge watch” their favorite programs through video-on-demand services, streaming of both old and new episodes on the network website, and providing access to the show via subscription content providers such as Netflix or Hulu.

 

This method of viewing an entire season or an entire series run of episodes is very appealing to Americans, who like the freedom to watch whatever they want, at whatever time they want to watch it. The days of “appointment TV,” when you had to be home at a certain time on a certain night because the show was something the viewer could not miss, are over. The average person is too busy today with all of the new technology and the demands of their respective careers or families for that approach to be viable anymore.

 

In this case the network and cable television broadcast companies got it right to capitalize on the marketing of these new platforms available to stream content and expand the viewership of their programming. These same executives have missed the mark at other points and have alienated viewers in the past. The networks, at another point in time, would have considered restricting access to their programming to their own detriment; though they continue to favor subscription services rather than Aveo and some other services that tend to provide the content for less money.

 

Some say the networks were smart to provide their programming content via the Internet and other platforms. However, I think they really had no choice because if they did not provide the content, they would have lost many viewers, so they did so for their own survival.

 

In fact, some people have already “cut the cable cord” and are using these other devices and services rather than paying for a cable or satellite service for television in their homes.

 

Original Programming

 

The other trend which will also serve to further accentuate the competition for viewers is the push toward the development of more original programming for the new age outlets such as Netflix, Amazon Direct, and Chrome TV.   The appeal for the high profile actors and actresses in Hollywood to sign on for original programs on these new formats is two-fold:

  1. The content providers have lots of cash to shell out to produce their own programming and pay the stars associated – so money is a key factor
  2. The rules for the content they can produce are different than if they did a mainstream show on a major network or a basic cable program. The rules for what they can display are similar to a series produced for a premium tier cable channel such as HBO or Showtime. That freedom from normal regulatory constraints is very compelling to certain stars to be able to work on a show that is unvarnished and bold.

 

Some of these programs have been successful already in their limited runs, which has only served to fill the pipeline with more concepts for future development. Netflix recently announced that they are developing original programming for children, which opens up a whole new avenue to market their service to families.  Amazon is working a few new original programming concepts as well.

 

The two other recent developments that have further continued this trend of original programming is the news of the Disney deal with Netflix, and the potential for exclusive sports programming moving to these new media service providers.

 

The Disney deal with Netflix will eventually provide for Disney movies to be available exclusively through a subscription to Netflix in probably about four years from now. However, Disney owns Marvel Studios and the rights to most of their comic book characters. Marvel and Netflix will be producing at least four original series, each focused on a single character, for release in the near future (www.usatoday.com).

 

The recent announcement by the NFL that they are strongly considering the addition of another tier of playoffs is rumored to be driven by the strong interest and deep pockets of Apple TV and Google to land the digital rights to sporting events, particularly the NFL (www.money.cnn.com).

 

These types of digital rights deals are going to be the future of professional sports viewing as well, and it serves as another reminder that the world is rapidly changing. The business activity and marketing campaigns have also made it abundantly clear: these changes are here to stay.

 

In addition, as these properties continue to advance they will get monetized differently, and as some have seen with certain programs on Hulu, you will have commercial interruptions on certain programs. The advertising agencies and the networks will find ways to deliver their sponsor’s message as these services grow more prevalent in the future.

 

So whether you have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Direct, or all three services; I hope you enjoy the viewing options for content that they provide because in the future it is only going to get bigger and better.