Note: This article originally appeared in TechCrunch on January 4, 2015.
2014’s megadeals discussed above, together with Microsoft uploading Minecraft maker Mojang for $2.5 billion and Amazon snatching up live gamer site Twitch for $1 billion, totaled nearly $10 billion. What does this portend for 2015? Certainly, accelerating digital media activity and a continued investor focus—meaning billions of dollars of new bets placed by VCs, strategic investors and acquirers on content-driven opportunities.
Beyond that, here are a few specific thoughts on what’s in store for the content landscape over the next year:
(1) The mobile-driven, premium, short-form video economy “grows up,” and traditional media companies take notice on a mass scale.
Shell-shocked studio executives internalize that digital-first platforms are where they must be to reach smartphone-obsessed Millennials. MCN acquisitions will quicken as more studios jump into the M&A game rather than try to figure out this new content platform themselves.
Some leading MCNs ripe for acquisition include foodie-focused Tastemade, dance-focused DanceOn, Latino-focused Mitu, sports-focused Whistle Sports and Collective Digital Studio. [Note: Manatt is an investor in DanceOn, and both Whistle Sports and Mitu are clients.]
International also becomes a major new battleground for these borderless video opportunities (European media company RTL Group’s $150 million to $200 million acquisition of U.S.-based fashion-focused MCN StyleHaul is a recent indicator of more to come).
(2) Major consumer brands follow suit and act in earnest.
Massive marketing dollars shift from traditional media to more measurable digital platforms in the form of branded content (not just ads), cannibalizing the former for the first time. Major investments are placed on ad-tech companies to maximize and measure those spends.
We see a number of significant ad-tech exits like Yahoo’s recent acquisition of BrightRoll for $640 million. Several brands go further and invest big to become digital-first lifestyle media companies themselves a la Red Bull, developing and aggregating content. GoPro, Pepsi and Marriott have proudly announced such ambitions.
(3) YouTube comes under siege from competing video platforms like Facebook and Vessel.
These “off YouTube” platforms lure content creators away with promises of more compelling care, feeding and economics (including the tantalizing prospect of real subscription revenues).
(4) Traditional pay TV packages likewise come under fire in the “Great Unbundling” that began in 2014.
What was unthinkable just one year ago (even 6 months ago!) became reality as HBO, CBS, Starz and others announced stand-alone over-the-top services. A parade of others follow suit in 2015 (which is not all bad for cable companies that benefit from the thirst for larger pipes). [In fact, both DISH and Verizon formally announced their stripped-down mobile-first paid subscription packages in the first two weeks of this year (and since I first posted this article).]
(5) Media and tech companies will literally converge.
Facing these tectonic shifts in long-established business models, traditional media companies and major tech companies, which find content increasingly critical to fuel their own businesses, take M&A seriously. One may pull the trigger on a mega-acquisition deal in 2015. After all, such a move wouldn’t be unprecedented. Let’s not forget that Sony acquired Columbia Pictures studios over two decades ago and Matsushita bought MCA/Universal Studios soon thereafter.
(6) On the music side, businesses move away from stand-alone services.
Massive moves are made away from business model-challenged stand-alone music subscription services. Like Apple buying Beats (which was never about the economics of Beats Music), numerous potential behemoth buyers exist.
(7) Gamers see real action too.
App developers increasingly focus on storytelling and compelling characters to build multiplatform media companies a la Rovio with Angry Birds. Rather than take traditional media properties and “gamify” them, these companies flip the model with an Apps-first approach.
(8) Gamers take to wearables.
We see an Oculus under every hard-core gamer’s tree next year, alongside their parents’ new digital health and fitness watches.