The media industry is going through a wave of consolidation as traditional players try to adjust to changing consumer habits. Demand for traditional media like print newspapers, cable TV, magazines, and landline phones, has decreased as streaming, mobile and digital media becomes more popular. As this trend continues, businesses will continue acquiring to capture consumers, build economies of scale and monetize content in order to stay profitable and grow. Here are three interesting transactions in the telecommunications, media and entertainment sector.

AT&T to Acquire Time Warner

AT&T plans to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion in one of the biggest media acquisitions in history. The telecommunications provider is eager to get its hands on Time Warner’s popular channels, such as HBO and CNN, in order to compete with rival Verizon, which recently acquired AOL and is in the process of acquiring Yahoo!. Time Warner plans to sell Atlanta broadcast stations to Meredith Corp in order avoid an antitrust review.

Sprint Acquires a 33% Stake in Tidal

Sprint acquired a 33% stake in Tidal, an online music streaming service owned by rapper Jay Z. By pairing Sprint’s pipeline of mobile phone customers with Tidal’s music and video content, the companies can be more powerful and reach more consumers.

In some ways this deal is a realization of the infamous Time Warner – AOL deal where they tried to leverage AOL’s infrastructure to distribute Time Warner’s content. While that deal is largely considered a failure, times have changed and Sprint and Tidal have a chance to get the integration right. While Time Warner and AOL tried a “merger of equals,” Sprint has acquired a minority investment in Tidal for $200 million.

Hollywood Reporter – Billboard Media Purchases Music Brands from SpinMedia

The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group will acquire four brands, Spin, Vibe, Steroegum, and Death and Taxes, from SpinMedia in order to establish the largest music brand by digital traffic, social reach and audience share. The Hollywood Reporter – Billboard Media Group’s strategic rationale is to reach millennials and aggressively enter into the video market.

I was recently interviewed about this deal in The Street:

“One of the challenges in today’s media environment is how do you remain relevant, so by combining these business brands and in particular by focusing on the music space, I think strategically the deal makes sense.”

As technology advances and consumer behavior continues to evolve, media companies will continue acquiring in order to stay relevant and most importantly, profitable.

Seeking growth amid a shifting telecommunications industry, AT&T has bet on media content. The company plans to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion in one of the biggest media acquisitions in history. The transaction will likely take over a year to receive regulatory approval, but both AT&T and Time Warner executives are optimistic. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has compared the deal to Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2013, which was approved after a long period of regulatory scrutiny. This vertical merger will bring together Time Warner’s media content and AT&T’s distribution network in one company.

Consumers Dropping Landlines, Cable TV

The telecommunications market has shifted with many consumers dropping landlines and cable TV. Mobile use is increasing exponentially with mobile users representing 65% of digital media time in 2015. This means people are primarily using smartphones to read articles, play games and watch videos than are using computers.

Telecommunications and media companies are starting to take notice of these trends. Just last year AT&T’s biggest rival, Verizon, acquired AOL in a push to reach more mobile users. And earlier this year, it announced it would acquire Yahoo to boost its mobile unit.

Deal Synergies

One benefit of the deal is that AT&T will be able to provide more data to Time Warner and advertisers without raising prices for consumers or withholding the content from competitors (like Verizon).

AT&T may also plan to create original, exclusive content leveraging Time Warner’s expertise in media. Online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon have successfully produced their own original content.

In the long term, AT&T wants to build up a robust, next-generation infrastructure in order to compete with cable providers. “I will be sorely disappointed if we are not going head-to-head” with cable providers by 2021, said Stephenson.

Growing in a Declining Market

As demand for traditional telecommunication services shrinks, AT&T and other providers must look outside their current market for new growth opportunities. In a declining marketing, consolidating, or simply gaining more market share will not help you grow in the long term. If AT&T managed to capture the entire market for landline phones, their revenues would still shrink as consumers abandon landlines.

By acquiring Time Warner, AT&T will own content including popular networks such as HBO and CNN. Organically growing its own content business would take time and be difficult given the large size of other media content producers like Disney and CBS. As an established business, Time Warner gives AT&T a foothold in the media market and immediate access to new users.

If like A&T you are stuck in a declining marketing, identifying markets with future demand for your company’s products or services is the key to growth. You can explore future demand by using our tool, the Opportunity Matrix, to understand where you want to position your company strategically looking forward.

Start exploring today 

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“The danger with a mergers-and-acquisitions boom is that chief executives could allow themselves to get carried away by the thrill of the hunt, reducing their focus on internal investment projects that might have a better chance of bearing fruit,” says the New York Time’s Dealbook column.

M&A activity has reached record highs and shows no signs of slowing. The $2.2 trillion in announced deals globally this year is an increase of 67% over the same period a year ago. This may be good news, but there are accompanying risks.

More mergers and acquisitions typically are a positive sign for the economy, but as activity increases so does the number of failed acquisitions. Executives can make irrational deals driven by excitement or pressure for acquisitions rather than strategy, because cheap capital is available or because others are executing deals.

This year we’ve already seen the failure of a few large acquisitions: Pfizer – AstraZeneca, Fox – Time Warner, Sprint – T-Mobile. Even completed acquisitions still may fall short of expected synergies.  We’ve seen a large number of tax inversions and consolidations, which are primarily driven by cost savings. This is concerning because once you’ve cut costs to become “leaner” and more efficient you have to employ another strategy to grow revenues. I’ve rarely found cost savings to be a strategy for long-term growth.

To further understand this phenomenon of irrational deal-making we can explore the M&A cycle that can be categorized into four phases.

  • Phase 1 – There are few mergers and acquisitions due to sluggish economic conditions.
  • Phase 2 – M&A activity increases as financing is readily available in an improving economy.
  • Phase 3 – Activity is robust: executives feel more confident about the economy and they execute more deals.
  • Phase 4 – The market is frothy and executives start making “dangerous” deals driven more by excitement and momentum than strategy. Premiums can rise to 100% in this final phase.

The excitement from the M&A boom in Phase 3 drives the onset of riskier deals in Phase 4 that are more likely to fail.

It’s natural to be enthusiastic about a deal, but avoid getting swept up in the excitement and acting on impulse without focusing on strategy. Following a proven, systematic process can help you objectively evaluate your M&A opportunities to make sure they are aligned with your growth strategy. I recommend you develop a strategic acquisition plan before you jump into searching for prospects or executing a deal. Using a process will minimize your risks, help you avoid making a bad acquisition, and increase your chances for a successful acquisition.

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The biggest tech M&A disasters were the Time Warner-AOL $350 billion merger and Google’s $12.3 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility.  In my observations, the greatest hurdle facing tech mergers is integration. Even where the strategy of the acquisition is solid, if the integration of the two workforces and assets is not executed properly, it will fail.  Even CEO Marissa Mayer, who has made more than 30 acquisitions since joining Yahoo in 2012, may be struggling with integration. Just last week she fired Henrique De Castro, her COO and the person typically responsible for integration.

Lessons Learned From Integration Struggles

Warning signs of the Time-Warner AOL disaster began with the press release they put out after consummating the deal. It contained lots of flowery language, but left everyone scratching their heads as to why the two companies were merging. There was also a culture clash. Executives struggled with integrating an up-and-coming young tech company with an established media mogul. Eventually, in 2009, Time Warner had to dispose of AOL.

Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2011 also failed to meet expectations and Google announced on January 29, 2014 it would sell the acquisition to China’s Lenovo. This loss-making division was supposed to usher in an era of new devices built entirely by Google. Unfortunately, Moto X, Motorola’s smartphone, performed poorly in comparison to comparable devices. Google’s failure with Motorola was partly due to issues with integrating Motorola with Google’s existing hardware division and with the company as a whole.  Perhaps Lenovo will have more success.

Amazon M&A Proves Bigger Is Not Always Better

The moral we can draw from this is that bigger is not always better. Although big acquisitions are the most visible due to widespread media coverage, they often fail to be truly successful.

Amazon provides an instructive example. Between 1998 and 2001, Amazon approached acquisition the wrong way, buying or investing in 29 companies across various industries from toys to car dealerships to financial services. Most of these acquisitions failed and Amazon’s stock plummeted from its peak at $106.69 on December 10, 1999 to a low of $5.97 in on September 28, 2001.

However, since 2004, Amazon has refocused on making smaller, strategic acquisitions. This is what I call “taking frequent small bites of the apple.”

Its most recent acquisition of social media site Goodreads, valued at $150 – $200 million, was tiny compared to Time Warner-AOL or even Google-Motorola. However, with Goodreads Amazon can build on its personalized recommendations and gain access to book fans. Amazon acquired TouchCo in 2010 for touch screen technology now used in Kindle Fires.  Building on this capability, Amazon acquired Liquavista, a mobile display technology company, in 2013. Amazon’s stock price is now $403.01 (as of January 30, 2014).

Small, strategic acquisitions allow companies to “digest” and integrate the entity. In all acquisitions, the devil is in the details. Although your strategy may be solid, if you don’t make sure all the pieces fit together, your acquisition is bound to fail. At the end of the day, companies, even tech companies, are made up of people. It is the people, more than the systems or technologies,that present the biggest challenges of integration. To overcome these, you need a strong leader with the wisdom and experience to combine different cultures while overseeing the operations of a newly merged company.

On this blog previously, David discussed some of the issues surrounding the AOL-Time Warner merger.  Given that the ten year anniversary of the merger was recently marked, I wanted to re-visit the ill-fated deal to explore it a little more in-depth.

AOL and Time Warner merged to create the “world’s first Internet-age media and communications company” for an all-stock combined value of $350 billion. The merger announcement stated that the new company “will be uniquely positioned to speed the development of the interactive medium and the growth of all its businesses. It will provide an important new broadband distribution platform for AOL’s interactive services and drive subscriber growth through cross-marketing with Time Warner’s pre-eminent brands”… which doesn’t include the laundry list of growth opportunities captured in the remainder of the announcement covering everything from music to telephony.

Instead of delivering on these ambitious promises, the merger imploded, translating into about $100B in lost shareholder value. The new company was plagued by many issues such as: short-term thinking, bad technology, bungled product development, and a risk-averse culture more prone to imitation than innovation. Most importantly the vision and passion the deal champions Jerry Levin and Steve Case established in 2000 were not effectively translated and executed by their people.

Yes, there were external pressures such as regulators and Wall street that increased merger difficulties – but I believe it all comes back to a clear vision that sets the strategic direction that the rest of the organization can understand and execute against. To that point – AOL’s original vision was “to build a global medium as central to people’s lives as the telephone or television… and even more valuable”. The company accomplished this vision prior to the merger. Eventually they replaced the statement in 2006: “to serve the world’s most engaged community”, which is nondescript and applicable to many businesses.

Recently, Jerry Levin, former CEO of AOL-Time Warner, and Steve Case, co-founder of AOL were on CNBC reflecting on the merger (see the video below). Levin apologized for the merger, “I presided over the worst deal of the century… I’m really very sorry about the pain and suffering and loss this has caused.” Levin and Case’s observations included:

  • Leaders need to be compassionate and understanding of the significant tension due to a merger’s disruptive nature and cultural differences
  • AOL TW was to be a ‘supermarket’ but instead was a ‘mall’
  • Vision is nothing without execution in which people are key
  • Too much focus on internal politics and wall street instead of customer needs