There's no shortage of Wall Street pros trying to play matchmaker these days, and Walt Disney (DIS 2.51%) is a company that's often played up as an eligible groom. The latest to offer up some potential pairings is BTIG Research's Rich Greenfield.
Greenfield kicked off this week by offering up a five-point plan (free registration required) to reposition the iconic Disney brand. He suggests that Disney needs new leadership at ESPN, which is no surprise, given the struggles at the sports network and how vocal Greenfield has been in playing up the demise of traditional cable properties. Greenfield also suggests that Disney stop buying back its stock, using those proceeds to go on a shopping spree.
Let's go shopping
Greenfield's next three points offer up potential buyout candidates for Disney. Twitter (TWTR) is his first target, and in Greenfield's view, the key to reinventing ESPN's SportsCenter rests on Twitter.
"Imagine a localized version of SportsCenter playing out live on mobile in every major market/region," Greenfield dreams out loud.
Breathing new life into sports programming may be at the heart of this purchase recommendation, but Greenfield also sees Twitter raising the profile of ABC, as well as the potential of cashing in on its mined data. There's some basis to this nudge, as Disney was often mentioned late last year as a potential suitor for Twitter.
Greenfield's second acquisition target is Spotify, the Swedish streaming giant that's running away with the market. There are now more than 100 million music fans worldwide on Spotify, with more than half of them paying to enjoy the on-demand platform. Spotify would give Disney a base that's growing by 10 million premium subscribers every five or six months, arming Disney with tens of millions of consumers willing to pay up for entertainment. If Disney has dreams of consumer-direct offerings, it may as well lock up the ideal target audience.
He closes by suggesting that Disney take a bigger role in the video-gaming market, picking up Electronic Arts (EA -0.32%) or Activision Blizzard (ATVI 0.15%). Disney hasn't been able to find sustainable success in gaming, so picking up one of the two proven hit factories makes sense on the surface. As gaming shifts to digital delivery and ongoing revenue generation, tapping into one of the two largest publishers gives Disney another way to establish consumer relationships and acquire usage data.
The problem with the shopping list
Disney isn't afraid to cut big checks. Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm all came with 10-figure price tags. However, they all introduced deep catalogs of content into Disney's well-oiled ecosystem. Twitter, Spotify, and either EA or Activision Blizzard are all about content distribution. EA and Activision Blizzard are the only ones that own actual content, though it may seem ironic that EA is at the mercy of Disney's Star Wars franchise for its Battlefront games and like ESPN is has an EA Games division that's at the mercy of escalating sports programming costs.
Media networks remains Disney's biggest top-line contributor and an even bigger part of its overall operating profit, but Greenfield is right that Disney needs to diversify away from its fading cable-networks business. Yes, Disney needs to go shopping, but going for platforms that may make it alienate partners or send rivals scurrying away from those services once they're no longer agnostic may not be the best use of Disney's dollars. There's a lot of stuff out there worth buying, but until Disney sees the right opportunities come up, there's nothing wrong with continuing to repurchase its own stock.