Behind the Screens - By Eric Buchman
 
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Somebody get these tech companies on Tinder, because they need to hook up

Comcast abandons bid to buy Time Warner Cable. Yay! Charter swoops in and buys Time Warner Cable. Boo! Verizon acquires AOL. Huh?

Big media mergers are usually met with a mixture of derision and confusion. The only thing certain about them are the riches they bestow on their corporate overlords. Consolidation frequently leads to mass firings and a reduction in options for consumers. Stock values might go up, but so do prices and unemployment.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Pair up the right companies and good things can happen for everyone involved – including consumers. Let’s open up the Tinder for Corporations app on our non-brand-specific smartphones and see if we can find some mergers and acquisitions that’ll benefit more than just the bottom line …

Sony needs a dance partner

Universal Studios is allied with NBC, USA, E!, Bravo, and all the other Comcast-owned channels. Paramount Pictures is affiliated with MTV, Nickelodeon, and the rest of the Viacom empire. Walt Disney Pictures has every channel with the letters “ABC,” “ESPN,” or “Disney” in them.

And Sony Pictures Entertainment has… Crackle?

Pair up the right companies and good things can happen for everyone involved – including consumers.

Sony is a rare free agent among major Hollywood studios. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From the Goldbergs on ABC to Community on Yahoo, SPE currently produces programs for just about every major outlet there is. On NBC alone, it’ll have four shows on the air this upcoming season — returning series Blacklist and Night Shift, and newcomers The Player and Game of Silence.

But that versatility comes at a cost. SPE has to rely heavily on international sales to keep some borderline shows on the air. And if things go sour with a single network (like NBC), the damage to its lineup could be devastating. If Sony had a major domestic outlet of its own, though, that would give it some much-needed leverage with American broadcasters.

Sony should swipe right for AMC Networks.

AMC Networks controls AMC, IFC, Sundance, and WEtv. What would it get out of the deal? As an independent suite of brand-name channels, it will always be a prime target for acquisition. The question isn’t “if” they’ll be acquired, it’s “when.” Walking Dead is still going strong, but Mad Men is history and its next generation of programming is an unknown commodity. One could easily argue that AMC is at peak value, which gives it tremendous leverage in any acquisition talks. It could retain a great deal of autonomy. AMC is better off selling high now to a company like deep-pocketed suitor (like Sony) than in a few years to shallower-pocketed one (like, say, Lionsgate).

community

Community

A Sony acquisition of AMC Networks could give AMC the corporate backing it needs to get through the lean years (which every network will inevitably face at some point) while Sony gets a marquee distribution channel into people’s homes. AMC would still get to develop as it wishes, while fan-favorite Sony shows like Community would live a little less on the edge.

Hulu needs a sugar daddy

You can’t talk about streaming episodic content without mentioning Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, but one of those three is not like the others. Hulu is still dating its highest-profile content (first-run network shows) while Netflix and Amazon have married theirs (attention-grabbing original series).

Hulu could provide Apple with a TV-streaming platform the same way Beats did a musical one.

Hulu is stuck in a Catch-22. Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal currently have major stakes in the service, which gives them an incentive to keep their programming deals in place with Hulu. If Hulu changes owners, that incentive goes away, which devalues the company.

So Hulu should just keep the status quo, right? Not if it wants to stick around for another decade. As Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal further improve their own online services and apps, they need Hulu less and less. If Hulu wants to survive, it needs to be owned by a consortium that doesn’t secretly consider it a competitor. That’s probably why the company has publicly gone up for auction twice now (only to ultimately reject all bids). So who might finally be able to make a bid that Hulu can’t resist?

Apple.

Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask

I know, I know, Apple has its own TV streaming service in the works. It would be paying a premium for something it can easily create itself, which isn’t the Apple way. At least, it wasn’t the Apple way. No one thought Apple would ever acquire a company like Beats, either. Hulu could provide Apple with a TV-streaming platform the same way Beats did a musical one.

(FYI: Hulu’s award-winning Behind the Mask is great TV without the TV, by the way, and you need to check it out.)

Viacom needs a young hookup

Much of Viacom’s content (think Nickelodeon and MTV) appeals to kids and young adults, but that appeal is threatened by the endless growth of YouTube. Disney recently bought Maker Studios explicitly for that purpose. Dreamworks Animation, likewise, went into business with AwesomenessTV. Viacom might not feel the need to buy a YouTube network like one of those, but it should. Specifically, it could use a YouTube network with a strong connection to music.

For that reason, I suggest that Viacom make a play for Collective Digital Studio.

What is CDS, you ask? Then you must be over 18 years old. CDS is part management company, part production company, and part distributor. They work with young artists to create compelling videos that have racked up billions of views.

CDS’s clients fit so well with Viacom’s current brands, many of them have already been featured prominently on Viacom networks. Take Lucas Cruikshank, who you might know better as “Fred,” who went from YouTube to Nick. CDS also helped produce Video Game High School, which exists right in that sweet spot between Nickelodeon and MTV’s target audiences.

Pebble needs … anybody

With its popular smartwatches, Pebble has become the poster boy for Kickstarter success, won big with the tech press, and amassed a faithful, devoted following. What Pebble has been able to do is extraordinary, considering it is taking on not one, but two Goliaths (Google and Apple).

Pebble does not have to go the way of the Pre, but it can’t do it alone.

But this success is not without precedent. Remember the Palm Pre smartphone? The Pre and its WebOS software also stole attention, customers, and praise from both Google and Apple. But poor timing (late to the market) and ill-advised partnerships (initial exclusivity to Sprint) doomed it.

Pebble does not have to go the way of the Pre, but it can’t do it alone. Who should partner with Pebble? At this point … anyone is better than no one. But ideally someone with major experience with E-Ink, since that’s Pebble’s distinguishing (and battery-saving) feature.

Hmm… What company out there has mastered E-Ink, has the ability to reach billions of consumers, and a desire to go toe-to-toe with Google and Apple? I think I might know one up in Seattle.

What would you like to see?

These are just a few partnerships that make sense to me. They have no basis in reality except in my own mind. Which tech companies would you like to see get together?