Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Apple Prefers to Build Than Buy

Why buy from someone else when you have the resources and vision to build it from scratch. For those like me thinking that Apple might just buy Hulu or Netflix and merge it with it's own iTunes Store, comes word that the opposite may be true. "Apple might be ready to roll out its own video subscription service similar to Amazon and Netflix, Peter Misek at Jefferies reports in a note this morning. Specifically, he says, 'As part of Apple's roll-out of cloud video services (and eventually an iTV), we believe Apple has unannounced deals with all/most of the studios/TV networks that are similar to the subscription streaming deal between Amazon and CBS.'"

Frankly, not too hard to believe. Apple has always been a tough negotiator. Heck their 30/70 subscription deal with newspapers and magazines for the iPad indicates that ability. Rather than accept the current deals tucked inside an acquisition, why not negotiate independently and build the best possible subscription model. Hopefully, with such a deal, Apple will enable a video content platform as large, if not larger than Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. If the content deals are thin, this may not be the most desired outcome.

When could such an announcement be made, most suspect not till later next month. Apple has never been shy about doing things on their own timeline. Coupled with the re-release of Apple TV and its iCloud platform, this could potentially be a very big news story.

Comcast Cable Subs Drop, Broadband Grows, Content Grows

As a total business entity, Comcast had a good financial quarter. Both revenues and earnings grew at a healthy pace, and the business seems poised for more opportunity. At the same time, Comcast is experiencing a change in its business model where broadband and content are at the heart of its future.

For the last quarter, Comcast, like the second largest cable operator, Time Warner Cable, saw its video subscriber base fall. This has been a consistent theme, quarter after quarter after quarter. While Comcast's 238,000 sub loss as a percentage of total subscription is small, the fact is that it remains a consistent story. On the other hand the wire to the home, enabling broadband and telephone access, continues to reap growth, with its combined total, 337,000 customers, more than making up for the video subscription decline. And less surprising, that their recently acquired programming entity, NBCU, combines with Comcast's other cable networks, is seeing a healthy growth in license fee and advertising revenue. Content certainly remains king.

Can Comcast stem the losses in video subscription? With the rise in IP programming from other platforms, and an almost crippling cost to subscribe to digital cable, it seems highly unlikely. Consumers will continue to shift their viewing habits to other means to find ways to pay for only the programming they want to watch and to hope that the aggregated cost of buying Netflix, Hulu Premium, or other content, remains less than cables' monthly subscription fee. It is highly unlikely that cable companies can lower their rates as programming license fees rise annually. Cable's solution may need to be dropping lower performing cable nets or developing cheaper packages, to lower subscription prices. Unlikely, but perhaps necessary.

For now, the wired pipe to the home is still providing strong revenue, especially with internet and phone growth. While the cable business may continue to erode, content distribution through NBCU and an ad sales rebound will only keep growing the whole Comcast business.

Sirius See Subscriber Growth As It Raises Its Rates

Forecasters expect an increase of 1.6 million customers, 200,000 over its initial forecast. All this as the recession and auto industry have been suffering for some time. At the same time, Sirius believes it is time to raise its monthly fees. They plan to raise fees to $14.95, a $2.00 increase. That translates into a healthy 15.44% bump. Does such price elasticity exist for current subscribers or will this plan change affect the current and future subscriber base? While I have yet to read about much outcry, once the change occurs next year, I'm sure voices will be heard.