A favorite pastime of more than a handful of Seeking Alpha contributors and others around the financial mediasphere focuses on corporate matchmaking. Outside of my disdain for most low-priced stocks, love for options and infatuation with the media space, nothing interests me more than a little M&A talk.
I think I get into M&A chatter for two primary reasons. First, it has something to do with my appreciation of the evolving media space. Consider what I wrote at the end of 2011:
Instead, I expect to see the players with the most foresight - companies like Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and Disney (NYSE:DIS) - join together in some fashion, be it partnership, merger or outright acquisition to stream their content from the same platform. The bigger and the more partners the better.
That prediction for 2012 already took shape with a couple major partnerships and looks set to stay on track.
Reason No. 2 - I love to push back against relative inanity. In this article, I consider M&A/partnership talk bandied about and discuss why certain ideas could make sense, while others qualify as relatively inane.
Not Just Inane ...
But insane. Mike Stallings hit the Seeking Alpha scene with an article entitled, Why Apple Should (And Could) Buy Sirius. Of course, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) could buy Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI). That goes without saying, but any justification as to why it "should" ratchets up my M&A inanity meter.
Stallings argues it gives Apple access to Sirius XM's 21 million subscribers, who could get satellite radio programming on Apple gadgets (they already do) and the ability to deliver Sirius stations, "for a charge," on Apple TV. First off, that has been done before. But, more importantly, the notion that Sirius XM's content is somehow so valuable to a company like Apple overstates the value of Sirius XM's content.
Stallings' case concludes with what amounts to Apple sits on a ton of cash, they would see a nice ROI, so why wouldn't they just plunk down a few billion and buy Sirius? It's stupid of them not to. Again, this is M&A talk from the cozy, but not-so-rational confines of an ultra-bullish vacuum. If you have followed Apple's history, even on the outskirts, it's clear that this is a company that does not throw its money around on M&A. As Steve Jobs said on many occasions, one key to his company's success is that it takes a pass on plenty of really great ideas. I'm not sure saying yes to a less-than-mediocre one is such a no-brainer to Tim Cook and his small circle of influencers.
Completely Inane And Insane
The who will buy Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) rumors just will not go away. For the life of me, I cannot understand why. One look at the mess this company's streaming division is in and any potential acquirer will run away. There is not a board of directors on earth (okay, maybe at a few companies) that would approve the takeover of a company with a broken brand, billions of dollars of what amounts to debt and a sloppy transition from the high-margin business of DVD-by-mail rentals to the low-margin pipe dream of third-party purveyor of streaming video content.
I might even have to turn my back on one of my other 2012 predictions. For a while, I thought it made sense for Netflix to sell its DVD segment to raise cash and for another company to buy it. However, between Netflix taking DVD out in a blaze of incompetence and Coinstar (CSTR) finally stepping up its game, the notion of taking a high-revenue, high-margin business line off of Netflix's hands looks less attractive today than it did last year.
All Sane And Logical
One industry that's going to tear itself inside out (if you get that, you are a true music geek) is the broad media space. I mean this in a good way. Consolidation in media can only be a good thing. I used to think it was bad for the consumer - it probably was, particularly in radio, and, on some level, probably still is - but, as the way we consume content changes, I rethink that long-held belief.
Back in the day, a marriage between two companies meant choice narrowed for consumers. Again, radio provides the perfect example. Bill Clinton effectively killed everything good about broadcast radio when he signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. By relaxing ownership limits, he created what we have now - a small handful of operators controlling practically every station in markets large and small.
Something changed the game in the last 15 years, though. Apple, and others, helped revolutionize the way we consume content. As such, hookups between big companies like Disney and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are not quite as scary as they once were. All of a sudden a cable customer has about 8 million different ways he or she can watch ESPN. Plus, the Internet opens us up to the world. You can watch the local news out of Chicago on your iPad while living in Singapore these days with no problem.
I'm waiting for some big players in media to up the ante and up it big time. I get my inspiration not only from the massive shifts happening in the broad media space, but from the situation I pay close attention to in Canada. That's the dominance of Rogers Communications (NYSE:RCI) and Bell Canada (NYSE:BCE). For whatever reason, the socialist Canadian government (that's what Fox News calls it) allows RCI and BCE to operate as telcos, cable/satellite providers and media companies, not to mention sports team and arena owners among other things.
I have got to think that U.S. telco and media executives look at this picture and salivate. What's the closest thing we have to the Rogers and Bell-dominated landscapes here in the U.S.? Verizon (NYSE:VZ)? Not really. Comcast and Madison Square Garden (NASDAQ:MSG) probably come closest as they more than dabble in multiple spaces. The big difference, though, is that companies like Verizon, Comcast and MSG do what they do on a largely regional basis. Rogers and Bell practically own the rights to an entire nation.
While I cannot tell you who is in play or who will buy or merge with whom, I can tell you this - big media M&A will take place this year, sooner rather than later. The partnerships between DIS and CMCSA and CSTR and VZ represent the tip of the iceberg.
I fully expect regional forces to combine or for a major telco like Verizon or, better yet, a huge programmer like Time Warner to make a power play for one or more big media companies. A CMCSA/MSG merger followed by an acquisition by one of the big boys makes all of the sense in the world.
Two things stand in the way - regulators and old rivalries, which die hard. These obstacles can be overcome. Just like consumers had to beat old guard media companies over the head to get them to embrace multi-platform delivery of content, major U.S. corporations will lobby the government to do what they deem the right thing.
Additional disclosure: I am long NFLX June $40 put options.