As we've noted recently, Pay TV is entering a stage of intense change. Not only is growth in the industry slowing significantly, but cable cutting is accelerating. Yet the market is huge and remains lucrative, even if the old approaches don't work like they used to.
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So now we see tentative signs of the plates shifting: first we saw that Viacom is negotiating with Sony to move Viacom's offerings online. Now we learn that ESPN is talking to various potential partners about moving all its networks to an online platform.
Don't be surprised if it turns out to be Apple, though this may be less likely after the death of Steve Jobs. Jobs was a huge factor in the development of Pixar and was on the Disney board and obviously was a gifted negotiator.
Even without Jobs, if it comes down to a bidding war, not many entities could outbid Apple at this point. It would also make sense since Apple's Tim Cook deemed television an "area of intense interest" earlier this year. Whatever the folks in Cupertino are working on, getting ESPN would be huge.
As it would for Google, Intel or Sony (incidentally, 10 years ago, every discussion like this would have involved Microsoft. The company is nowhere to be found in this sort of speculation now).
Remember the AT&T precedent: Apple used AT&T to get the first iPhone out and part of what sold it was that sense of exclusivity. Having had AT&T previously, we're pretty sure that people bought the phone, not the carrier.
Having an exclusive tie-in with the Mothership would be huge. And on a side note, both Cook, who graduated from Fuqua, and Senior V.P. Eddie Cue, who earned a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Economics, are both Duke guys who have a shot at remaking (another) industry.