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商业 - 科技

Netflix将花落谁家?

Sanjay Sanghoee 2014年11月21日

对流媒体视频巨擘Netflix会不会遭到收购,投资者有诸多猜测。但商业评论家Sanjay Sanghoee认为,Netflix的合适买家只有一位,那就是阿里巴巴。

    此外,尽管持有1550亿美元的现金和证券,苹果公司一般都会把这些资金用于回购股票,或收购小公司,后者的主要目标是其知识产权或人才,而不是延续被收购方的业务。斥资30亿美元收购耳机制造商Beats是个例外,此举在很大程度上都源于苹果对音乐的关注。因此,Netflix离苹果关注的目标群体还很远,至少目前如此。

    另一个潜在买家是康卡斯特(Comcast),该公司很快就会成为康卡斯特-时代华纳(Comcast-Time Warner)的一部分。如获得美国政府的批准,这次合并将缔造美国最大的有线电视公司,其用户将达到3000万。不过,尽管康卡斯特在市场中拥有强大的支配力,但该公司目前也面临着与日俱增的挑战,原因是越来越多的用户不想继续使用有线电视服务。随着Netflix、Hulu,甚至是HBO和Showtime为消费者提供了大多数他们所需的在线内容,传统的有线电视模式正在节节败退。

    如果收购Netflix,康卡斯特就可能把前者的视频流媒体门户网站和自己的宽带服务捆绑在一起,此举或许有助于康卡斯特弥补有线电视用户的流失。二者的合并也将有利于Netflix,因为它一直被迫向康卡斯特缴费,以免后者的网络给它带来播放延迟。

    不过,康卡斯特牵手Netflix仍存在两个障碍。首先,美国总统奥巴马最近要求联邦通信委员会(FCC)加强网络的中立性,这有可能造成康卡斯特这样的公司无法有选择性地降低网速。这样,Netflix就不一定要和康卡斯特合并,从而规避卖家不急买家急的局面(尽管FCC负责人已经把奥巴马的要求顶了回去)。在这种情况下,康卡斯特或许不得不以非常高的溢价收购Netflix。

    另一个障碍是反垄断审批。具有讽刺意味的是,鉴于Netflix和康卡斯特的协同效应之大以及两公司业务共同覆盖的范围之广,二者合并的可能性已经变得非常之低,甚至毫无希望。康卡斯特和时代华纳的合并已经遭到了市场观察人士的猛烈抨击,原因是他们担心这项超级并购可能产生反竞争效应。如果康卡斯特在并购方面还想有进一步的动作,就可能会遭到美国司法部的否决。

    最后,我们找到了最适合收购Netflix的公司——近期刚刚上市的中国电子商务巨无霸阿里巴巴。

    上市后的阿里巴巴财力雄厚,可支配资金最多有望达到500亿美元。而且,该公司正打算通过在美国的收购来实现增长。更重要的是,阿里巴巴希望在中国建立自己的流媒体视频业务,以便和优酷土豆以及搜狐等国内视频服务商抗衡。同时,它已经和狮门娱乐(Lions Gate Entertainment)联手,推出一项新业务。

    虽然狮门娱乐的影视制作发行业务很成功,但是该公司在经营内容门户网站方面毫无经验。和Netflix这样的纯发行商不同,狮门娱乐在内容合作方面的作用可能有限。如果阿里巴巴真的想打进流媒体视频市场,能让它受益更多的应该是利用行业领军企业的技术和营销专长,而不是和狮门娱乐一起从零开始。

    阿里巴巴的目的也许不仅仅是打造视频业务,它可能还想通过影视制作在好莱坞闯出一些名堂。但在这方面,Netflix也有可能是个可靠的合作伙伴——它已经在连续剧制作领域大展拳脚,而且开始涉足电影。Netflix还表示,2014年该公司在原创内容领域的投资将翻一番,而且其中一些资金可能用于制作专门针对中国市场的内容,其余资金将继续为美国和其他市场提供支持。换句话说,如果收购Netflix,阿里巴巴就会获得一个响亮的品牌,对全球流媒体市场的覆盖(横跨50个国家),以及一项“即插即用”的视频业务,用于开拓价值4.7亿美元的中国在线视频市场。

    对Netflix来说,国内用户增长放缓意味着它需要积极开拓新市场。该公司的首席财务官戴维•韦尔斯在投资者见面日上已经强调过这一点。虽然在中国发展并非易事——其中存在诸多挑战,包括政府的限制、盗版以及让消费者为网络视频付费等等,但阿里巴巴的业务规模和国内影响力可能有助于Netflix在这样的环境下取得成功。此外,原创内容支出的不断增长和在国际市场的迅猛发展可能会耗费大量资金,这种情况下Netflix还可能从阿里巴巴的殷实家底中受益。

    最后,Netflix目前股价比它一年中的最高点低20%,而且狮门娱乐的投资还没有完全到位,现在应该是阿里巴巴进行接触的好机会。考虑到马克•库班对Netflix的长远打算,此举应该会让他开心不已。

    Sanjay Sanghoee是一位商业评论家。他曾在知名投行拉扎德(Lazard Freres)和德利佳华(Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein)就职,还曾为对冲基金RamiusCapital效力。他拥有哥伦比亚商学院(Columbia Business School)的MBA学位,在Netflix、亚马逊公司、苹果公司、康卡斯特、时代华纳和阿里巴巴都没有持股。(财富中文网)

    译者:Charlie

    审:李翔

    In addition, even though Apple has $155 billion in cash and securities on its balance sheet, it tends to use that money for share buybacks and for purchasing small companies primarily for their intellectual property or talent as opposed to sustaining its businesses. The $3 billion Beats acquisition was an exception but that has a lot to do with Apple’s focus on music. This puts Netflix far outside of Apple’s desired scope, at least for now.

    Another potential acquirer could be Comcast CMCSA 0.51% , soon to be Comcast-Time Warner. The combination of Comcast and Time Warner, upon government approval, will create the biggest cable provider in the U.S. with 30 million subscribers. However, despite its market power, Comcast is now facing a growing challenge of consumers wanting to cut the cable cord. As services like Netflix, Hulu, and now even HBO and Showtime provide consumers with most of the content they want over the Internet, the traditional cable model is breaking down.

    By acquiring Netflix, Comcast could bundle the company’s video streaming portal with its own broadband access service, which might help it to replace customers that it loses on the cable side. A merger would also help Netflix, which was forced to pay a fee to Comcast to avoid being slowed down over the company’s network.

    Still, there are two wrinkles here. First, President Obama’s recent call on the FCC to enforce net neutrality could prevent companies like Comcast from selectively slowing down Internet traffic and therefore obviate the need for Netflix to pursue a transaction with the cable operator, making the buyer more eager than the seller (although the head of the FCC has pushed back on the idea). In that situation, Comcast might have to pay a very large premium to obtain Netflix.

    The other problem would be anti-trust approval. Ironically, the scope of the synergy between these two companies and the combined reach they would have makes this transaction highly improbable, if not impossible. Comcast’s deal with Time Warner has drawn plenty of fire from market watchers with anti-competitive concerns stemming from such a mega-merger, and any further moves by Comcast down this road could be a non-starter for the Department of Justice.

    That brings us to the most appropriate suitor for Netflix – Chinese ecommerce behemoth Alibaba BABA -3.01% , which recently went public.

    Flushed with cash after going public, Alibaba could potentially have up to $50 billion to spend. The company is also looking to grow through acquisitions in the U.S. More importantly, it wants to create a streaming video presence in China to compete with domestic players like YoukuTodou and Sohu.com, and has partnered with Lions Gate Entertainment LGF 0.41% to launch a new service.

    While Lions Gate is a successful movie and television producer and distributor, it has no experience in running an online content portal and is potentially limited in its content relationships unlike a pure-play distributor like Netflix. If Alibaba really wants to crack the streaming video market, it would benefit more from the technological and marketing expertise of the leading player in the space rather than start from scratch with Lions Gate.

    It may be that Alibaba’s goal isn’t just to launch a new video service but to make a splash in Hollywood through production. But there too, Netflix could be a solid partner given its aggressive entry into series creation and now into movies as well. Netflix has also said that it will double its spending on original content in 2014, some of which could be channeled into producing exclusive content for China while the rest continues to support the U.S. and other markets. In other words, by acquiring Netflix, Alibaba would gain a powerful brand name, a global streaming footprint (spanning 50 countries), and a plug-and-play operation for the $470 million Chinese online video market.

    For Netflix’s part, slowing domestic user growth means the company needs to expand actively into new markets, a point that CFO David Wells stressed during an investor event. While the Chinese market is not an easy one to navigate – challenges range from government restrictions and piracy of content to hesitation from consumers to pay for online video – Alibaba, with its size and local clout, could help Netflix succeed in that environment. And with its growing expenditures on original content and rapid push into international markets likely to cost a lot of money, Netflix could benefit from Alibaba’s balance sheet.

    Finally, with Netflix currently trading 20% down from its 52-week high, and the Lions Gate investment not yet complete, now would be a good time for Alibaba to explore talks. Given his long bet on Netflix, Mark Cuban would be happy.

    Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School. He does not own any shares of Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Time Warner or Alibaba.

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