FX, a division of 21st Century Fox, today announced a broadening of its FX+ add-on service for pay TV operators to Cox Communications’ pay TV subscribers, in addition to its existing partnership with Comcast. But in some ways more interesting were comments its head made about the network’s future approach to licensing content. In essence, FX has had to pay a lot of money to undo past deals which gave various other entities rights to its content so that it could put that content back on its own streaming service, and he says he doesn’t plan to make that mistake again. Netflix was singled out in particular as a streaming service FX had licensed content to in the past but wouldn’t again, and Netflix’s shares were down around 5% today seemingly as a result. All of this of course validates Netflix’s decision a number of years ago to invest much more heavily in its own original content, which has three major drivers of which hedging against such decisions was one of the big ones. Netflix needed to control its own destiny when it came to content, and there was always the risk that it would lose its licensing deals as it increased in popularity and power. I think the 5% drop based on comments from one content owner is likely overblown – there certainly wasn’t such a strong reaction to Disney’s recent pullback, at least not right away – and in general Netflix is in pretty good shape content-wise and retains some of FX’s most popular shows for now. FX, meanwhile is pursuing a very limited strategy with its add-on network, limiting it to pay TV subscribers rather than going after cord cutters, either independently or through Amazon’s powerful Channels product, which has driven lots of subscribers for similar packages. That feels like a mistake, and something FX should rectify sooner rather than later if it wants to reach a considerably larger potential base of customers.
Taylor Swift’s Music Comes Back to Spotify (Jun 9, 2017)
Netflix Agrees to License Content to Baidu Subsidiary iQIYI (Apr 25, 2017)
Google has today announced a patent licensing alliance which is intended to provide cover to member companies using each other’s patents. The idea is that any member can use any other member’s patents without fear of being sued, something that’s actually been quite common between members of the broader ecosystem over the last few years. The alliance has only nine members to start with, about half of which are smaller smartphone brands, but the members do include Samsung, LG, and of course Google itself, as well as Foxconn. Those members alone apparently have 230,000 patents between them which will now be freely available to other members within the context of Android devices. This is a fascinating move, and it’s impressive that Google was able to get Samsung and LG in particular on board without also having some of the other big Android vendors. Of course, none of this will stop these companies from suing those outside the Android ecosystem (or this alliance), but it might help temper some of the animosity that has sometimes characterized competition between Android OEMs.
What’s interesting here is that Microsoft is licensing patents rather than selling technology to Toyota – in other words, Toyota gets the right to use ideas patented by Microsoft, but not products or services built on top of them. That suggests that, while Microsoft has an impressive patent portfolio, it hasn’t necessarily built with those patents technology carmakers consider valuable. And that remains a big challenge for Microsoft in the connected car space – Windows and related technologies have been used in cars in the past, and Azure is being used as a cloud service behind some connected car services today, but Microsoft continues to struggle to build technologies carmakers actually want to use in cars, while other players continue to make headway in the space. I could certainly see Microsoft doing more deals like this – indeed, it describes this as a first for a new auto licensing program – but that doesn’t mean Microsoft is any closer to a stronger role in in-car technology.
Further evidence here that if tech is to disrupt TV, it’s often going to do it without the support of the traditional TV industry, which is in some cases starting to pull back its content to its own platforms while leaving others like Hulu out in the cold. Viacom’s new CEO said on its recent earnings call that the company would be pulling back from SVOD services, and this is the first sign that he meant what he said. This is also the single biggest reason for SVOD providers to invest in a big way in original content which can’t be yanked away due to skittishness on the part of content providers. Hulu is a unique animal in this space, with several of its its owners among its biggest content providers, but it’s still vulnerable to this kind of thing, and the other big streamers even more so.
The Qualcomm ‘Tax’ Rebellion – Bloomberg Gadfly (Jan 24, 2017)
This is a great explanation of exactly what’s going on in the lawsuit between Apple and Qualcomm and the various investigations of Qualcomm by competition authorities in several jurisdictions. At root is the fact that Qualcomm charges a licensing fee based on the total cost of devices, not just on the parts Qualcomm makes, a model that’s increasingly out of whack with where the value is in smartphones. It really is starting to feel like the industry has reached a tipping point at which it will no longer put up with this licensing model, and if things don’t go Qualcomm’s way, that will be extremely damaging to its business. Meanwhile, it keeps selling chips to Apple to use in phones, because to stop would be incredibly damaging too.
via Bloomberg Gadfly