Microsoft wastes no time in countering Google’s cloud gaming ambitions

Cloud gaming is emerging as a major new front in the competitive war between tech giants, who are using the E3 gaming trade show to flex their muscles.

A few days ago Google added some substance to its cloud gaming ambitions by announcing more details, including a list of games and pricing, of its Stadia platform. Shortly after Microsoft had its big E3 reveal, which of course focused on plans for its Xbox gaming console. These included the ability to stream games from a console to a mobile device and the opportunity for attendees to stream games from the cloud via the Project xCloud streaming service.

The difference between the two is that the latter doesn’t require you to own an Xbox console and so is directly equivalent to Stadia. Microsoft first announced Project xCloud last October, so it’s clearly a tricky proposition if this is the progress it has managed in the intervening 8 months. Having said that, at least one gaming hack seemed impressed with the streaming performance, noting that the latency was acceptably low.

Low latency will be the killer feature of 5G if this sort of thing is to drive truly mobile gaming, as we noted from MWC earlier this year. Not only is it a prerequisite for fast-paced first-person shooter games, in which any delay presents a massive competitive disadvantage, but it’s widely recognised that its essential for the virtual reality user experience.

You can see a bit more from the Microsoft E3 announcement below, but the company still seems to be keeping its cards fairly close to its chest on this topic. Maybe one reason is that it’s trying to work out what this means for its cloud gaming partnership with Sony, which just happens to make the main competitor to the Xbox. The market is clearly receptive to cloud-based subscription services for its entertainment such as Netflix and Spotify. We will soon find out if this applies to gaming too.

Google fleshes out its Stadia cloud gaming platform

Having teased a new cloud gaming platform earlier this year, Google has finally got around to launching it properly.

Stadia offers games that are 100% hosted in the cloud, which means you don’t need a console, don’t need to install any software and can game on any screen with an adequate internet connection. Right now Google is only launching the premium tier, which offers 4K gaming but requires a £9 per month subscription and a 35 Mbps connection.

A freemium tier will follow in due course that won’t change a subscription fee but will offer reduced performance. It looks like both tiers will charge full-whack for individual games, although the premium one will chuck in a few freebies to sweeten the pot. Among the games announced by Google is a third version of the popular RPG Baldur’s Gate.

To seed the market Google is urging early adopters to by a Founder’s Edition bundle that includes a controller, a Chromecast Ultra dongle and three months subscription to the ‘Pro’ premium tier for £119. Here’s what you get for Pro versus the basic package.

stadia pricing

The main telecoms angle here is bandwidth. Google reckons you still need a 20 Mbps connection even for 1080p gaming, which a lot of people, even in the UK, still struggle to reach. But the real strain on networks will come if people start using stadia via mobile devices. This is unlikely to really take off until you get games developed specifically for mobile, probably with a location and/or AR element to them, but when they do we might finally see a killer consumer app for 5G.

 

EE 5G hits the ground running

Sneaking in-front of Vodafone to debut on May 30, EE’s 5G proposition will be launched across six cities in the UK with a range of different devices and interesting bundling options.

While the launch of the network was announced last week, BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera gave much needed colour to the deployment plans at a media event in London and to be fair to BT and EE, it does look pretty impressive.

From today, customers will be able to pre-order bundles from EE as well as choose from multiple devices. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will of course be one of the options, though customers will also be privy to exclusive deals with the Samsung Fold, Oppo Reno 5G and the LG V50 ThinkQ, as well as Huawei’s FWA device and the HTC 5G Smart Hub.

While all of the devices certainly promise a lot, the LG approach is perhaps the most interesting. The device itself is pretty much as you would expect, though a separate module is also included, allowing the device to be clipped in to add an extra screen (as you can see below). Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin said the product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with each screen working independently of the other.

The device also has the potential to open up entirely new experiences when it comes to gaming.

LQ Images

What you will not see over the next few months is a Huawei device launched in partnership with EE. Allera suggested the pause button has been hit on this relationship, due to the difficulties the firm is facing with its Android licence. If EE cannot guarantee performance of the device throughout the customers mobile contract, it will not partner with Huawei.

But onto the launch itself, six cities will experience the 5G euphoria on Day One, with another 10 added to the mix over the remainder of 2019. Building on the already completed work, EE plans to upgrade 100 base stations to 5G a month, taking the total to 1500 by the end of 2019.

“Today is Day One of our 5G journey, we are going to be the first in the UK and one of the first in Europe to bring our customers 5G,” said Allera.

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Always connected is not a new concept from EE, though it would not be a surprise to see the message ramped up over the next couple of months. With 4G, broadband, wifi and, soon enough, 5G, EE has a lot of connectivity assets to shout about. When you combine these different segments with the largest geographical 4G coverage of all the UK MNOs, this is a selling point which would genuinely interest our internet-obsessed society.

That said, advertisements will need a bit of ‘sexing up’ if they are to catch the attention of the mass market.

On the speeds side, it does look like EE will be launching its 5G network with the ambition of reaching 200 Mbps. However, the message will be more focused on reliability and consistent experience as opposed to peak speeds.

“Peak speed might be the headline, but it is not the story,” said Allera.

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Creative tariffs and bundling are where EE might be able to attract the most attention. 5G customers will not only gain access to faster download speeds and more reliable connections but will get the option to choose from various different zero-rating options to make the most of the connectivity euphoria. These options can be swapped out as the customer desires.

Finally, EE will be also be the exclusive partner of Niantec for the highly-anticipated follow-up to Pokemon Go; Harry Potter, Wizards Unite. Although Pokemon Go was a bit of a sham when it came to delivering on a genuine augment reality experience, the Harry Potter game looks much more immersive and truer to the definitions of AR. Considering the popularity of Pokemon Go, Niantec could certainly be onto another winner should it be able to nail the AR experience with this new title.

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What is worth noting, is this is only the first phase of the EE 5G strategy. The aim will be to have 5G present in 50 cities across the UK by this time next year, though in the first phase it will only be in the busiest areas. Although the geographical rollout will be quite limited, 8% of base stations will be 5G, these assets will deliver 25% of the total traffic running across the EE network.

The second phase of the deployment, starting in 2022, will see the rollout of EE’s brand new 5G core, as well as the introduction of new spectrum. This will be when the UK will be able to experience a genuine 5G network, with the prospect of cloud gaming, AR and immersive content living up to the promise. The final phase, 2023, will see the introduction of mission critical applications focusing on the low-latency angle of 5G.

Interestingly enough, despite all the criticism faced by Huawei in the press, EE will be launching its 5G proposition with Huawei at the core of the network. This is unavoidable and will only be temporary, EE will gradually phase out Huawei from the core, but it is a fact which has seemingly been overlooked or cleverly managed out of the public domain by the BT PR team.

5G is about to become very real for the consumer and soon enough there will be a battle between the MNOs to fight for attention. EE and Vodafone might be scrapping for the 5G lead right now, but this approach from EE looks very promising.

How carriers can grab a piece of the billion-dollar mobile-gaming pie

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John-Paul Burke, Country Manager UK, Ireland and the Nordics for Gameloft, has some tips for how operators can grab a bigger piece of the mobile gaming action.

You only have to look around your train or bus home from work to see how many of your fellow commuters are playing a game on their smartphone, to know that mobile gaming is absolutely huge.

The global mobile games market was estimated at $63.2 billion in November 2018 (according to Newzoo’s 2018 Global Games Market Report). It’s clear that what was once a niche hobby reserved for hardcore gamers is now mass market. Every smartphone is a console, meaning that everyone, everywhere, can be a gamer. Even within the gaming industry, mobile gaming makes up 42% of worldwide revenue.

This has let companies across a number of sectors diversify their revenue streams, providing the scope for them to reach existing (and prospective) customers through mobile gaming. Yet arguably, carriers have been slow to embrace the opportunity, and have largely overlooked gaming as part of a broader package of benefits.

As competition for customers looks set to intensify even further within the mobile industry, here are three ways carriers could use gaming to differentiate their offering.

All-you-can-eat gaming

The mobile sector has long understood that it can leverage people’s love for entertainment streaming services, to incentivise prospective and existing customers. EE was the first to clock on, announcing a six-month free subscription to Apple Music for its users in 2017. Vodafone soon followed, and now offers a huge range of video and music streaming services to customers across its Red Entertainment plans.

Not dissimilar to services such as Netflix or Spotify, “all-you-can-eat” gaming packages allow customers access to a range of games – either on a complimentary basis, or for a fixed monthly fee billed directly through the carrier. Customers could benefit from, for example, unlimited downloads and play time, with no in-game ads, while carriers can benefit from a proportion of the income, and increased customer loyalty.

These packages are already offered by carriers in the Americas and Europe. Gameloft’s own unlimited gaming platform is used by America Movil, Telefonica LATAM and Tim Italy. However, they are yet to become common in the UK. This is soon set to change. Verizon announced earlier this year that it would be joining big tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft in developing its own games streaming service. We can expect to see increased interest and demand from UK customers in all-you-can-eat gaming – with opportunities for UK carriers to offer this kind of package.

Surprise and delight

Another route carriers could take to engage existing customers is to surprise and delight them in the games they’re already playing.

Services such as O2’s priority scheme demonstrate the power of reaching customers where they already are. For instance, allowing participants to buy tickets for their favourite artist or event up to 48 hours before the tickets are released to anyone else. Offering a huge range of deals and discounts in the stores and restaurants customers visit every day. These are small incentives but help people to experience the things that matter to them. They punch above their weight in terms of the value they add.

A number of publishers work with carriers to offer their customers free in-app credits or power-ups in their most-played, blockbuster games. This is an effective tool to build loyalty, surprising customers with the means to progress in the game they’re playing is a quick win that carries value for the users.

Infrastructure to support mobile gamers

Emerging technologies, which can help boost network performance, will allow carriers to offer packages that fundamentally improve the quality of their customers’ gaming experience. After all, for gamers, network performance is of utmost importance, especially when gaming gets competitive. Good bandwidth, low (or no) latency and packet loss all help ensure that their game runs smoothly, and that they’re on a strong footing when playing against others.

With 5G set to launch this year, there’s a huge opportunity for carriers. Mobile gamers will arguably be the greatest beneficiaries of 5G, which can help make increasingly detailed and bandwidth-heavy mobile games smooth and lag-free. Similarly, Edge computing, which enables data to be processed closer to the user, could also help reduce delays.

Some telecoms companies are already offering packages tailored to the gaming industry’s huge market – such as Virgin Media’s VIVID 350 fibre broadband, promising an ultrafast connection fit for the needs of PC and console gamers. It’s only a matter of time before mobile carriers begin investing in their infrastructure in order to offer similar packages to mobile gamers.

Ofcom’s decision late last year to reform the switching of mobile communication services means it will be easier than ever for consumers to take advantage of competition, and to move to a better deal with a different provider. Yet Ofcom’s decision also presents an opportunity for carriers. There’ll be greater scope than ever to catch the roving eyes of potential new customers. Either way, telcos need to ensure they’re offering customers everything they can – and part of this should be making it their mission to help people more easily play the games they love. Or, they risk missing out on their slice of the $63.2bn mobile gaming pie.

EA’s Fortnite copycat is off to a flier

One week after Electronic Arts launched Apex Legends, a free-to-play online battle royale game, the team is purring over 25 million sign ups and over 2 million concurrent players at peak times.

The game itself, developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by EA, is nothing that original. While the look of the game might have a different feel to Fortnite, the idea and gameplay is effectively the same and users are seemingly loving it. Just a point of comparison, it took Fortnite three months to hit the 25 million sign-up milestone.

“What a week,” said Vince Zampella of Respawn Entertainment. “Since we launched Apex Legends last week on Monday we’ve seen the creation of an Apex Legends community that is excited, thriving, and full of great feedback and ideas. Our goal is to build this game with you, our community, so keep giving us your feedback because we really are listening.”

Gaming might well be a niche in the telecommunications world right now, but it is growing at a staggering rate. It won’t be too long before the telcos have to pay attention to this segment of the digital world, factoring in gaming as a major conversation in the connectivity mix.

What Fortnite has done over the last couple of months is take a niche segment of the gaming world out to the masses. Online multiplayer formats are of course not new, but the free-to-play idea, with revenues being sourced entirely through in-game purchases, has been taken to a new level. The accessibility of a relatively limited experience has captured the imagination and interest of new users, opening the door for other developers to follow.

Of course, as the popularity of these games increase, the demands on the network will do as well. These are games which are reliant on real-time experiences, marrying interactions between users all over the world. For avid gamers, or those with children, purchasing decisions might well be impacted on the performance of these experiences. Now it might not seem like a massive deal, but these trends have a tendency to snowball; just look at the explosion of video content over the last couple of years.

It’s just another factor for the telcos to consider over the coming years. Gone are the days where gamers are satisfied with a linear, story-mode experience, something which would have been easy for the telcos to deal with. These games require downloads and updates, but this is nothing compared to the demand of real-time interactions with 20+ other users in countries all over the world.

Gaming has largely been ignored to date, but with the segment creeping out of its niche corner offering new and in-depth experiences for the mass market, it is increasingly becoming a burden on the network.

Microsoft to make the gaming experience device-agnostic

Microsoft is about to launch a cross-platform developer kit which will allow the Xbox service, and content on the platform, to be integrated Android, iOS and Switch devices.

Although the firm has not announced the developer kit just yet, an overview of its keynote session at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next month details the plans. There have been rumours of Microsoft making such a move to broaden and deepen the gaming experience, though this seems to have made the reports official.

“Now Xbox Live is about to get much bigger,” the conference blurb states. “Xbox Live is expanding from 400M gaming devices and a reach to over 68M active players to over 2B devices with the release of our new cross-platform XDK.

“Get a first look at the SDK to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs.”

Back in October, Microsoft launched Project xCloud, an initiative to extend the reach of the Xbox platform on more devices and screens. This would appear to be the first step towards delivering on the promise of consistent gaming everywhere.

Although gaming has become much more prominent in recent months, this is perhaps more of a plug for the over-arching cloud computing business than it is for the Xbox brand. Taking the Xbox brand onto multiple devices moves the emphasis from hardware into the cloud. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state Microsoft does not care where or what content you are playing, as long as its Microsoft cloud kit which is powering the experience.

Another interesting factor to this snippet of information is it is yet another incremental step towards linking up all the various siloes in the digital world.

With saved passwords, using social media for online authentication and the free flow of personal data through intermediaries, all the internet giants are very keen to ensure each of the siloes throughout the digital economy are linked together. Google is starting to get very good at it, while others are certainly spreading their influence. There is money to be made in connecting the mobile experience to the same laptop user.

Perhaps this also demonstrates another step towards making the smartphone redundant?

Although restricted to gaming for the moment, Microsoft is demonstrating an online profile can follow a user around anywhere. Maybe this could be extended to the entirety of the smartphone and then onto the user’s whole digital profile. With biometric authentication improving, screens could soon become ‘universal interfaces’, with any user loading up his profile in a fraction of a second.

Of course, the communications aspect of the devices would have to be embedded elsewhere, perhaps in connected earphones, and AR glasses would have to take off on-the-go entertainment, but who knows what the digital world will look like in a few years’ time.

British parents are increasingly worried about the Internet – Ofcom

Research into children’s media consumption published by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that only 54% of parents agreed the benefits of the internet outweighed its risks, the lowest level since 2011.

The report, “Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2018” (and its Annex) and “Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why” were made by Ofcom with analysis of 2,000 British children aged 3-15 years and their parents. Less than half of the parents of 3-4-years agreed that the internet is doing more good than bad.

When prompted with the major concerns parents have about their children’s online life, “companies collecting information about what their child is doing online” came the top with 50% of parents expressing concern. Three other issues have increased in their level of concern from the similar research a year ago: the child damaging their reputation (42% vs. 37%), the pressure on the child to spend money online (41% vs. 35%), and the possibility of the child being radicalised online (29% vs. 25%).

Ofcom 2019 1 parent concerns

Published by Ofcom today, the reports showed that on average, a 5-15-year old child would spend more than four hours a day in front screens, including 2 hours 11 minutes online (same as a year ago) and 1 hour 52 minutes watching TV on the TV sets (8 minutes shorter than 2017).

“Children have told us in their own words why online content captures most of their attention. These insights can help inform parents and policymakers as they consider the role of the internet in children’s lives,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom. “This research also sheds light on the challenge for UK broadcasters in competing for kids’ attention. But it’s clear that children today still value original TV programmes that reflect their lives, and those primetime TV moments which remain integral to family life.”

There are differences in media consumption patterns between age-groups and between social groups. For example, the older the age group, the more time the children would spend online, from less than nine hours per week for the 3-4-year olds to 20.5 hours for the 12-15-year olds. Or, children of the 3-4-year old group in C2DE households spend more time going online, playing games and watching TV on a TV set, compared to those in ABC1 households.

Ofcom 2019 2 weekly hours

When it comes to device ownership and the devices used for media consumption, the research found that 1% of 3-4-year olds already have their own smartphones, and 19% have their own tablets. The penetration rates go up to 83% and 50% respectively in the 12-15-year old group. Again, there are differences between sub-groups on the devices used to consume media on their devices. While TV sets are still being used by more than 90% of children across all the sub-groups, the percentage of them also watching TV on other devices increased from 30% in the 3-4-year olds to 62% in the 12-15-year group.

The penetration of streaming services including Netflix, Now TV, and Amazon Video is already fairly high among all the sub-groups, with 32% of 3-4-year olds using at least one of them, going up to 58% in the 12-15-year olds. But YouTube is still leading in popularity. 45% of 3-4-year olds have watched YouTube, the penetration would go up to 89% in the 12-15-year olds.

As well as content consumption, content creation is also on the rise among children, with “making a video” one of the most popular online activities. While on average 40% of 5-15-years have made an online video, nearly half of all 12-15-year olds have done so.

Ofcom 2019 3 making video

Time spent on online gaming has remained largely unchanged from a year ago, ranging from a little over 6 hours per week in the 3-4-year group to nearly 14 hours in the 12-15-year group. But gaming is the online activity that demonstrates the biggest gender disparity. While boys in all age groups spent more time on gaming than girls, the difference went up to over 7 hours in the 12-15-year olds. On average girls in this group spent 9 hours 18 minutes playing online games while boys of this age spent 16 hours 42 minutes.

Social networks are another important type of media consumption by children. Facebook remained to be the most popular social media among the 12-15 years group, but its downward trend has continued to the lowest level of 72% penetration since the high of 97% in 2011. Gaining popularity are Instagram (65%, up from 57% in 2017), Snapchat (62%, up from 58%), and WhatsApp (43%, up from 32%). More significantly, when asked to name their “main site or app”, equal number of 12-15-year olds (31%) named Facebook and Snapchat.

Ofcom 2019 4 social networks

Astoundingly, 1% of 3-4-year olds, 4% of 5-7-year olds, and 18% of 8-11-year olds already have social network accounts, despite that most social networks set their minimum age at 13. WhatsApp raised its minimum age for EU users to 16 prior to GDPR came into effect. At the same time, less than a third of parents were aware of Facebook’s age limit, with even less awareness for the age restrictions of Instagram and Snapchat.

Ofcom 2019 5 parent awareness

Apple turns to gaming to crack subscription conundrum – sources

Apple has been searching far and wide for alternative revenue streams to reduce its reliance on the plateauing devices market, and the latest venture might take it into the world of gaming.

With content being an incredible bust for the business, Apple is reportedly in hot pursuit of the blossoming gaming segment. This is an area which would seemingly tick all the boxes for the iLeader; recurring revenues, a chance to grow organically and in before the segment has become popular and saturated.

According to Cheddar, Apple is in discussions to create a gaming platform which would bundle various titles together behind a paywall. It sounds like it could be a Netflix for gamers and would certainly give the status quo of gaming a bit of a poke.

Looking at the gaming segment, this is an area which is becoming increasing popular with users while profitability is certainly heading in the right direction for the developers and platform owners. There is already a lot of money flowing around this space, but as more games evolve away from single- to multi-player, internet focused experiences, popularity seems to be growing in the mainstream markets.

Recent figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) in the UK suggest gaming now accounts for just over 51% of the three segments in the entertainment world (video and music being the other two), doubling in revenues since 2007. Netflix and Amazon have proven the subscription OTT segment has legs, normalised the idea in the mind of the consumer, so why shouldn’t a gaming platform work as well.

Of course, for this to work Apple would have to convince the developers to join hands behind the paywall. This is where Apple’s venture into the world of content has failed before; it didn’t create good enough content to be considered a realistic player. This will certainly be a big change in the status quo for the developers and it will be interesting to see what the results are. Apple not only needs high quality content, but a broad enough portfolio to make it value for money.

Here is where Apple is swimming against the tide. Single purchases might have been the way developers made money in the past, but the popular route is now free-to-play with in-game purchasing options. It has proven to be very successful and there might be some resistance to move to another business model. Don’t fix what isn’t broken might be a relevant phrase here. What Apple is suggesting in a completely new approach to revenue sharing as the games are bundled together behind a paywall. Theoretically it can work but change scares the majority.

If Apple can balance the equation, it would certainly be a relief for CEO Tim Cook who must be feeling some pressure right now. A less than enthusiastic earnings call demonstrated Apple is floundering in the software and services segment. Yes, it is growing, but not at the rate of knots which Apple investors have come to expect. Apple hasn’t really done anything exciting or applaudable in this segment yet, most of the gains are through iTunes or Apple Care for example; differentiation and diversification are desired above all else.

Apple is certainly stepping out of its comfort zone here, and we strongly suspect it might fail because of this. However, it might just lead the way for a fast follower (Netflix perhaps?) to reap the rewards.

In fairness though, you have to give Apple credit for creative thinking and an interesting idea. Those recurring revenues might not be that far away for the iGiant.

Who’s got the stones to buy Netflix?

Apple, Disney, Microsoft or Apple; one of the biggest questions which has circled the technology industry over the last couple of years is who could possibly acquire Netflix?

The streaming giant, Wall Street’s darling, has almost constantly been talked up as an acquisition target. However, another year has passed and it’s another year where no-one managed to capture the content beast. You have to start to wonder whether it will ever happen, but here we’re going to have a look at who might be in the running.

Netflix numbersWith subscriptions totalling more than 148 million, 2018 revenues exceeding $15.7 billion and operating income up to $1.6 billion, Netflix would certainly be a useful addition to any company. However, with market capitalisation now roughly $143 billion and debt which would make your eyes water, an acquisition would be a scary prospect for almost everyone.

First and foremost, let’s have a look at some of the players who might have been in the equation, but alas, no more.

Disney has been a rumoured acquirer for almost as long as Netflix existed. This is an incredibly successful company, but no-one is immune to the shift tides of the global economy and consumer behaviour. Getting in on the internet craze is something which should be considered critical to Disney, and Netflix would have given them a direct-to-consumer channel. However, there was always a feeling Disney would develop its own proposition organically and this turned out to be the case.

AT&T is another company which might have been in the fray, but its Time Warner acquisition satisfied the content needs of the business. All telcos are searching to get in on the content cash, developing converged offerings, and AT&T is a company which certainly has a big bank account. As mentioned above, the acquisition of Time Warner completes rules this business out.

There are of course others who might have been interested in acquiring the streaming giant, but for various reasons they would not be considered today. Either it would be way too expensive, wouldn’t fit into the company’s objectives or there is already a streaming service present. But now onto the interesting stuff, who could be in the running.

Microsoft logo

Microsoft

From doom to gloom, CEO Satya Nadella has certainly turned fortunes around at Microsoft. Only a few years ago, Microsoft was a shadow of its former self as the declining PC industry hit home hard. A disastrous venture into the world of smartphones was a slight detour but under the cloud-orientated leadership of Nadella, Microsoft is back as a lean, mean tech heavyweight.

Alongside the cloud computing business, Microsoft has also successfully lead the Xbox brand into the digital era. Not only is the platform increasingly evolving into an online gaming landscape, but it also lends itself well to sit alongside the Netflix business. If Microsoft wants to compete with Amazon across the entire digital ecosystem, both consumer and enterprise, it will need to expand the business into more consumer channels.

For Netflix, this might be an interesting tie up as well. Netflix is a business which operates through a single revenue stream at the moment, entertainment, and might be keen to look at new avenues. Gaming and eSports are two segments which align well with Netflix, opening up some interesting synergies with Microsoft’s consumer business.

“Microsoft is at a crossroads,” said independent telco, media and tech analyst Paolo Pescatore. “Its rivals have made big moves in video and it needs to follow suit. The acquisition addresses this and complements its efforts with Xbox. The move also strengthens its growing aspirations in the cloud with Azure, firmly positioning itself against Amazon with AWS and Prime video.”

However, while this is a company which could potentially afford to buy Netflix, you have to wonder whether it actually will. The Netflix culture does not necessarily align with Microsoft, and while diversification into new channels is always attractive, it might be considered too much of a distraction from the cloud computing mission. Nadella has already stated he is targeting the edge computing and AI segments, and considering the bounties on offer there, why bother entertaining an expensive distraction.

Apple Store on 5th Avenue, New York City

Apple

Apple is another company which has billions floating in free cash and assets which could be used to leverage any transaction. It is also a company which has struggled to make any effective mark on the content world, excluding iTunes success. With Netflix, Apple could purchase a very successful brand, broadening the horizons of the business.

The last couple of months have shown Apple is not immune to the dampened smartphone trends. Sales are not roaring the same way they were during yesteryear, perhaps because there has been so little innovation in the segment for years. The last genuine disruption for devices probably came from Apple a decade ago when it ditched the keyboard. Arguably everything else has just been incremental change, while prices are sky-rocketing; the consumer feels abused.

To compensate for the slowdown, CEO Tim Cook has been talking up the software and services business unit. While this has been successful, it seems not enough for investors. Netflix would offer a perfect opportunity for Apple to diversify and tap into the recurring revenues pot which everyone wants to grab.

However, Netflix is a service for anyone and everyone. Apple has traditionally tied services into Apple devices. At CES, we saw the firm expand into openness with new partnerships, but this might be a step too far. Another condemning argument is Apple generally likes to build business organically, or at least acquire to bolster existing products. This would stomp all over this concept.

Alibaba Logo

Alibaba

A Chinese company which has been tearing up trees in the domestic market but struggled to impose itself on the international space, Alibaba has been hoping to replicate the Huawei playbook to dominate the world, but no-where near as successfully.

Perhaps an internationally renowned business is exactly what Alibaba needs to establish itself on the international space. But what is worth noting is this relationship could head the other direction as well; Netflix wouldn’t mind capitalising on the Chinese market.

As with any international business a local business partner is needed to trade in China. Alibaba, with its broad reach across the vast country, could prove to be a very interesting playmate. With Netflix’s Eastern ambitions and Alibaba’s Western dreams, there certainly is dovetail potential.

However, it is very difficult to believe the current US political administration would entertain this idea. Aside from aggression and antagonistic actions, the White House has form in blocking acquisitions which would benefit China, see Broadcom’s attempted acquisition of Qualcomm. This is a completely different argument and segment but considering the escalating trade war between the US and China, it is hard to see any tie up between these two internet giants.

Google Logo

Google

If you’re going to talk about a monstrous acquisition in Silicon Valley, it’s difficult not to mention Google. This is one of the most influential and successful businesses on the planet with cash to burn. And there might just be interest in acquiring Netflix.

Time and time again, Google has shown it is not scared of spending money, a prime example of this is the acquisition of YouTube for $1.65 billion. This might seem like pocket change today, but back in 2006 this was big cash. It seemed like a ridiculous bet for years, but who is laughing now?

The issue with YouTube is the business model. Its advertiser led, open to all and recently there have been some PR blunders with the advert/content alignment. Some content companies have actively avoided the platform, while attempts to create a subscription business have been unsuccessful. This is where Netflix could fit in.

“Google has made numerous failed attempts to crack the paid online video landscape,” said Pescatore. “Content and media owners no longer want to devalue their prized assets by giving it away on YouTube. Acquiring Netflix gives Google a sizeable subscriber base and greater credibility with content and media owners.”

Where there is an opportunity to make money, Google is not scared about big cash outlays. Yes, Netflix is a massive purchase, and there is a lot of debt to consider, but Google is an adventurous and bold enough company to make this work.

However, you have to question whether the US competition authorities would allow two of the largest content platforms to be owned by the same company. There might not necessarily be any direct overlap, but this is a lot of influence to have in one place. Authorities don’t generally like this idea.

Verizon Logo

Verizon

Could Verizon borrow a page from the AT&T playbook and go big on a content acquisition? Perhaps it will struggle to justify the expense to investors, but this one might make sense.

Verizon has been attempting to force its way into the diversification game and so far, it has been a disaster. While AT&T bought Game of Thrones, Verizon went after Yahoo to challenge the likes of Google and Facebook for advertising dollars. A couple of data breaches later, the content and media vision looks like a shambles. Hindsight is always 20/20 but this was a terrible decision.

However, with a 5G rollout to consider, fixed broadband ambitions and burnt fingers from the last content acquisition, you have to wonder whether the team has the stomach to take on such a massive task. Verizon as a business is nothing like Netflix and despite the attractive recurring revenues and value-add opportunities, the integration would be a nightmare. The headache might not be worth the reward.

You also have to wonder whether the telco would be scared off by some of the bold decisions made from a content perspective. Telcos on the whole are quite risk-adverse organizations, something which Netflix certainly isn’t. How many people would have taken a risk and funded content like Stranger Things? And with the release of Bandersnatch, Netflix is entering the new domain of interactive content. You have to be brave and accept considerable risk to make such bets work; we can’t see Verizon adopting this mentality.

Softbank Logo

Softbank Vision Fund

Another with telco heritage, but this is a completely different story.

A couple of years back, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son had a ridiculous idea which was mocked by many. The creation of a $100 billion investment fund which he would manage seemed unimaginable, but he found the backers, made it profitable and then started up a second-one.

Son is a man to knows how to make money and has the right connections to raise funds for future wonderful ideas. Buying Netflix might sound like an absurd idea, but this is one place we could really see it working.

However, the issue here is the business itself. While Son might be interested in digital ventures which are capable of making profits, the aim of the funds have mainly been directed towards artificial intelligence. Even if Son and his team have bought into other business segments, they are more enterprise orientated. There are smaller bets which have been directed towards the consumer market, but would require an investment on another level.

Tencent Logo

Tencent

Another Chinese company which has big ambitions on the global stage.

This is a business which has been incredibly successful in the Chinese market and used assets effectively in the international markets as well. The purchase of both Epic Games and Supercell have spread the influence of the business further across the world and numerous quarterly results have shown just how strong Tencent’s credentials are in the digital economy.

Tencent would most likely be able to raise the funds to purchase the monster Netflix, while the gaming and entertainment portfolio would work well alongside the streaming brand. Cross selling would be an option, as would embedding more varied content on different platforms. It could be a match made in heaven.

However, you have to bear in mind this is a Chinese company and the political climate is not necessarily in the frame to consider such as transaction. Like Alibaba, Tencent might be viewed as too close to the Chinese government.

No-one

This is an option which is looking increasingly likely. Not only will the business cost a huge amount of money, perhaps a 30-40% premium on market capitalisation, the acquirer will also have to swallow all the debt built-up over the years. There will also have to be enough cash to fuel the content ambitions of Netflix, it reportedly spend $7.5 billion on content last year.

Finally, the acquirer would also have to convince Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, as well as the shareholders, that selling up is the best option.

“If I was a shareholder or Reed Hastings, I’d be wondering whether it is better to be owned by someone else or just carry on what we’re doing now,” said Ed Barton, Practise Lead at Ovum.

“These guys are going down in business school history for what they have done with Netflix already, do they need to sell out to someone else?”

Netflix is growing very quickly and now bringing in some notable profits. The most interesting thing about this business is the potential as well. The US market might be highly saturated, but the international potential is massive. Many countries around the world, most notably in Asia, are just beginning to experience the Netflix euphoria meaning the growth ceiling is still years away.

What this international potential offers Netflix is time, time to explore new opportunities, convergence and diversification. Any business with a single revenue stream, Netflix is solely reliant on subscriptions, sits in a precarious position, but with international growth filling the coffers the team have time to organically create new business streams.

Ultimately, Hastings and his management team have to ask themselves a simple question; is it better to control our own fate or answer to someone else for a bumper payday? We suspect Hastings’ bank account is already bursting and this is a man who is driven by ambition, the need to be the biggest and best, breaking boundaries and creating the unthinkable.

Most of these suitors will probably be thinking they should have acquired Netflix years ago, when the price was a bit more palatable, but would they have been able to drive the same success as Hastings has done flying solo? We suspect not.