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The Biggest Streaming Media Mergers and Acquisitions of 2014

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Except it wasn’t just $970 million, as announced by everyone from Slate to The Wall Street Journal: The next day, on Aug. 26, 2014, Amazon pushed its purchase price higher, finally capping out at $1.1 billion, within range of what Google had paid for YouTube in 2006. There were even articles written about what went wrong with the Google and Yahoo deals, including potential antitrust issues that Google may have faced, owning both YouTube and Twitch. The best explanation was one that Vogt provided to his hometown newspaper, perhaps acknowledging the antitrust issues: “Amazon made the most sense ‘in terms of how they would treat the company, its employees and their strategic vision for Twitch.’”

What has Twitch done with the money? Like Ooyala, it has begun to acquire other companies to round out its stable of services. Twitch announced in December 2014 that it had acquired GoodGame. The company is a talent agency of sorts, with marketing thrown in, targeting esports and video game broadcasters.

“There’s no doubt that being bought by Twitch means all of our employees will be taken care of very well,” GoodGame CEO Alex Garfield wrote about his company’s acquisition by Twitch. “But at the same time, we’re talking about a group of people who’ve dedicated most—if not all—of their adult lives to esports and to growing this industry. It’s a deserving bunch. On top of that, we’ve reserved a portion of the transaction for a player pool, which means that every player currently contracted with GoodGame will receive a small portion of the company’s sale.”

ViewCast

The company formerly known as ViewCast now has a few new owners, with at least one taking key products back to their roots. The new owner, VarioSystems, has shed the ViewCast name and pushed into the market with a new/old name: Osprey by VarioSystems.

It turns out that VarioSystems isn’t such a newcomer to the Osprey solutions, which began life in Raleigh, N.C., under the auspices of the same team that founded—and later sold, at a reasonable rate of return—the Inlet Technologies line of products to Cisco. VarioSystems was the contract manufacturer for the Osprey product line under the ViewCast era of Osprey encoding boards, so the addition of the “by VarioSystems” name is something of an acknowledgement that the ViewCast brand name had become untenable.

ViewCast had another division that focused on integrated solutions. This division, brand-named Niagara but actually a company called VideoWare, Inc., was sold off to Valdor, a Canadian company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX).

Valdor, which received approval from TSX to acquire the Niagara division of ViewCast in February 2014, paid $500,000 following TSX approval, and was required to pay an additional $600,000 secured by a promissory note. In addition, Valdor agreed to pay ViewCast, a 7 percent royalty “on gross sales from the VideoWare business ... over a 5-year period, to a maximum of $1.75 million.”

In other words, ViewCast lives on, devoid of the Osprey and Niagara product lines.

Aereo

One company that had held on for several years with questionable business practices finally conceded defeat in mid 2014. Aereo, which was backed by Barry Diller of Liberty Cable fame, lost multiple appeals, including one to the Supreme Court. In a 6–3 ruling, the high court agreed with lower courts that Aereo had violated copyright laws by allowing those who used the Aereo service to view an “unlicensed public performance.”

“The court agreed with broadcasters’ arguments that Aereo’s business constitutes an unlicensed public performance,” StreamingMedia.com’s Troy Dreier wrote. “Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, rejecting Aereo’s claims that it’s more like a VCR than a cable company."

Having lost its Supreme Court battle, Aereo is now searching for ways to comply, but it’s also being met with competition, such as the Tablo unit that Dreier reviewed a month after Aereo’s court defeat.

Maker Studios

Disney kept itself in the new media production game by acquiring Maker Studios, one of the leading content creators for YouTube, in March 2014. The deal itself was for $500 million, with bonus and performance payouts over time of up to $450 million more.

Maker has a sizable presence on YouTube, with more than 55,000 channels on YouTube alone. Disney pointed to this in explaining the interest in buying a short-form content creation company.

“With 380 million subscribers and 5.5 billion views per month on YouTube, Maker has established itself as the top online video network for millennials,” said Disney’s press release.

As of the first 2 weeks of 2015, Disney’s Maker Studios have pushed beyond YouTube, inking a deal with Vimeo to “give creators another option for monetizing their content besides YouTube,” according to Dreier. The deal involves tools to easily upload content to Vimeo, as well as a financial component that allows YouTubers to also make money by side loading content to Vimeo. The possibility also exists for Vimeo to directly option content from Maker Studios’ talent pool of independent producers.

iTaaS

This set-top box company, founded by executives that had previously been with Scientific Atlanta, was acquired by NASDAQ-listed Cognizant in April 2014 for an undisclosed sum. ITaaS had recently expanded its U.S.- and India-based presence to Canada, opening an office there in early 2014, and its core focus for several years had been the Comcast RDK, a development kit for set-top boxes running on Comcast’s reference design.

The company, operating as a subsidiary of Cognizant, continues to be involved in “porting, testing, and support activities of the RDK with multiple customers and is in discussions with a variety of players across the RDK ecosystem.”

What’s worth noting, as we enter 2015, is that iTaaS is also shifting its focus to investigate “cloud technologies to deliver the user experience to customers using RDK based STBs,” which means that a cable-focused set-top box design company is moving into the over-the-top (OTT) and streaming dongle space primarily dominated by non-MSO-connected companies.

That brings us full circle. While we wait for Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable to be cleared or nixed, the industry is moving forward. Besides the iTaaS example, we also saw movement with Sling TV as a cord-cutting service offering for those who don’t want cable or satellite subscriptions but still want to view live linear content via online streams.

In other words, regardless of whether the Comcast deal goes through, we’re going to see further consolidation and innovation well into 2015.

[This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as Streamticker 2015.]

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