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M&A Coming to Digital Home Battle

UPDATED: The battle for the so-called "Digital Home" will be fraught with acquisitions and mega-partnerships in the next three years, according to a report published Monday.

A Forrester Research report entitled "The Battle For The Digital Home" said Google, Apple, Disney, and Sony all are expected to pay for their technologies. Other industry giants like Microsoft, and News Corp's Fox Entertainment Group will pool their individual resources to capture and control new revenue streams.

The predictions come in advance of this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Forrester analyst Ted Schadler, the report's author, dusted off his crystal ball in search of short-term industry trends. His said he foresees a multi-faceted "no winner-take-all" fight, where success resides with businesses that partner outside their industries.

Schadler told internetnews.com that the predictions are not based on conversations with executives, but on logical progressions of the large players to create consumer loyalty now that sinigle vendor lock-in is no longer an option.

"Businesses in every industry must fight to protect their assets, retain customers, and stave off competitors. Ten years ago, cable companies owned TV in the living room. Today they compete with satellite TV -- and they'll soon compete with telcos -- for customers," Schadler said. "Companies that master skills like experience design and customized delivery will lead the way by creating services and products that earn consumers' loyalty."

Schadler's predictions for the next three years include:

  • A joint venture between the NFL and FOX to create an immersive experience where sports fans can select camera angles and split-screen content.
  • Sony's acquisition of Clear Channel to combine Sony's music and devices business with Clear Channel's radio stations to offer personalized, time-shifted digital radio.
  • Google's acquisition of TV Guide's interactive program guide allows it to deliver a best-in-class personalized media application -- video search.
  • A partnership between Microsoft and BellSouth, Verizon, and SBC to provide an operating platform for IPTV.
  • Disney's acquisition of Electronic Arts. With EA's sports games, Disney/ESPN becomes the premier sports brand on PCs, TVs, and game consoles.
  • Apple's acquisition of TiVo provides it with a service platform for TV and video on-demand.

Spokespersons for Google and Sony declined to comment. Calls to other companies mentioned in the report were not immediately returned.

In Schadler's view, the leaders in the Digital Home sector are the cable, game, PC and software industries. Challengers are made up of the content, portal and telco industries, while the long shots include the consumer electronics, retail and satellite TV industries.

While some industries are better positioned, Schadler's report predicts the establishment of six new power positions that will control the lion's share of consumer spending: personal entertainment, intelligent devices, application-device combinations, immersive experiences, collaborative experiences and core services. Customers will choose an environment in which devices connect to one of two networks: a closed, wired entertainment network for digital TV and video on-demand, and an open, wireless data network for Web browsing, e-mail, music, photos and Voice over IP.

Some of the ingredients are already in place. Disney and News Corp. each announced plans last year to launch their own video-on-demand Internet-based services in early 2005.

Microsoft has already inked a deal that places its Windows-based software as the basis for telephone provider SBC's rollout of Internet-based television (IPTV). The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has also been busy with Intel, devoting money and resources to launch their "Digital Joy" home PC initiative.

Schadler said, regarding acquisition predictions, Sony would receive a thorough review by the FCC, but would succeed. Google has the money and the interest in video search. The value of the ESPN sports network could be exploited if Disney seeks new revenue streams and pursues a games channel.

And while Apple is not traditionally known as an acquiring company, Schadler surmises that the Macintosh-maker is more interested in TiVo's reoccurring service revenues than it is in TiVo's software.