Disney has struck an industry-changing deal, and now ‘everybody is talking to everybody’

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Fox

  • The Disney-21st Century Fox deal has been announced, and some media analysts expect a flurry of deals to follow.
  • The first may be for independent Hollywood studios, as content clout suddenly becomes in high demand.
  • Some experts see Viacom as a natural acquisition target.
  • What will really be interesting is whether tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Netflix feel motivated to get acquisitive.

Now that Disney has announced a $52.4 billion deal for slew of assets from 21st Century Fox, it’s hard to imagine that other media titans will stand pat.

In fact, many in the business expect a frenzy of acquisitions as the industry grapples with the specter of Silicon Valley, with its powerful platforms and deep pockets, not to mention rapidly changing consumer media habits.

“It’s an all-out war on the content front,” said Peter Csathy, the founder of the media-consulting firm Creatv Media. “Conference rooms are buzzing, and everybody is talking to everybody.”

Who knows what’s next? Here are a handful of possible moves at a time when almost anything seems possible.

Everyone needs to get bigger, starting with the studios

If Disney is indeed buying Fox assets to hoard content for its coming streaming service (and to make movies featuring the X-Men and other Marvel characters it didn’t already have access to), do other media giants need to load up on content?

As Business Insider’s Nathan McAlone recently noted, the concentration of power is only growing. So staying small is getting tougher.

“Scale matters when you negotiate,” said Michael Goodman, the director of digital media strategies and digital consumer practice at Strategy Analytics. “This is sort of a continuation of a reaction to AT&T-Time Warner.”

Here are some potential studio targets:

  • Lionsgate (“Saw” franchise, shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “Mad Men”)
  • MGM (James Bond)
  • Sony (“Spider-Man” and “Better Call Saul,” though observers say any deal would be complicated)

Potential studio buyers:

Comcast: As the digital-ad veteran Jay Sampson, who has logged long stints at Microsoft and Adobe, sees it, AT&T may soon have Time Warner in-house. Thus, Comcast may need to match that combo by adding a studio with a deep back-end catalog. “They’d get efficiencies in production cost, marketing, and distribution and maybe vault ahead of Time Warner,” he said.

Amazon: The company is looking for the next “Game of Thrones,” Variety reported recently. “I can imagine an Amazon getting into the game,” Csathy said. “Their underlying strategy is to drive Prime membership.” And the more reasons people have to subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service (like, say, 20-plus Bond movies on demand), the more shoppers are locked into the Amazon ecosystem.

Netflix: It has already bought a comic book producer, which provided the streaming juggernaut with its own IP. If Disney plans to choke off its library, maybe Netflix buys an MGM to fill out its library while continuing to invest in originals.

spectre

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Sony

Viacom has its challenges, but is it suddenly a big target?

There’s no doubt the media conglomerate has its obstacles. Viacom’s core business is cable networks aimed at young people (Nickelodeon, MTV) when young people are running from cable. Still, it has tentpole events like the Video Music Awards and kids’ franchises like “Paw Patrol.”

Plus, Viacom owns the movie studio Paramount.

Would-be buyers:

  • Viacom could recombine with CBS (they were part of the same company through 2006).
  • Viacom could look to connect with its fellow cable stalwarts Discovery/Scripps.
  • Or the likes of Comcast, Netflix, Amazon, or even Google could be interested. Maybe Google sees Viacom as a way to jump-start its move into TV ads?

The latter possibility is doubtful in the view of Brian Wiser, a research analyst for Pivotal. “I think the answer to pursuing TV advertisers’ budgets is ongoing investment in video content,” he said. “I don’t think Google necessarily buys anyone to do that.”

The Justice Department waiting game

Is the AT&T/Time Warner deal actually going to happen? It’s uncertain, as the Justice Department has sued to block the deal, while the parties remain confident. It looks as if a decision won’t happen until well into 2018.

The way this court case plays out could affect the appetite and parameters of lots of potential deals.

In the meantime, Goodman sees more consolidation among independent, regional cable distributors, such as Altice USA’s recent purchases of Cablevision and Suddenlink Communications. “It’s getting harder and harder for small operators,” he said.

Is Verizon a buyer?

The wireless company was reportedly also kicking the tires on Fox. While Verizon has moved aggressively in online ads by purchasing AOL and Yahoo over the past few years, it is way behind when it comes to the TV screen.

But Verizon may be waiting to see what happens with AT&T and Time Warner. In fact, lots of people may be waiting for a decision on that deal.

department of justice building

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REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst

If net neutrality goes away, then things might get crazy

The Federal Communications Commission is likely to end so-called net-neutrality rules. Sampson thinks that suddenly makes controlling the pipes into people homes – i.e., the broadband service that delivers people the internet -paramount, since, theoretically, an end to net neutrality would mean broadband companies could favor certain web content over others. That’s when things get interesting.

For example, what if Amazon (or Google or even Facebook) bought Comcast?

“They’ve made big inroads into the home” with devices like the Amazon Echo, Sampson said. “Amazon to sell you stuff and Google and Facebook to sell you ads. Long term, they don’t want to be relying upon a cable operator or wireless carrier to get them there.”

Plus, Sampson theorized, whoever controls broadband access would be able to start charging companies like Netflix a toll to get their content to people’s home – or could choke those companies off. Lots of Netflix rivals would seem to be interested in that.

But many observers had serious doubts about how much net-neutrality rule changes would affect the way media companies operate.

“I think Amazon makes decisions based on what drives prices down or otherwise adds value to its retail and e-commerce consumers,” Wieser said. ” I don’t know that owning pipes or distribution to consumers is necessarily that important.”

A new presidential administration could also bring net neutrality back. “What if Trump is gone in a few years, and you’ve shifted your whole business and the laws go back?” Goodman said.

President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House.

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President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House.
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Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Does Apple do anything?

Csathy predicts that Apple will launch a Netflix competitor as a place to launch its own shows (Apple wants to spend $1 billion on content). That’s why buying a studio could make a lot of sense, he said.

Others have resurfaced a popular theory: Apple could buy Netflix and put its shows there.

Apple isn’t known for making such large acquisitions, Csathy noted. But it could look to grab a dark-horse content contender.

“Apple wont be able to stand on sideline,” he said.