2013 has so far been the year of mega media buys, as pay-TV companies and Internet streaming businesses face off for viewership. Let's take a look at some of the big winners this week, and what they mean for investors.
Go big or go home
An increasing number of viewers are dumping cable for cheaper online streaming options these days. As a result, media companies of all sorts are outbidding each other for content rights in a push to remain competitive in the space.
On Tuesday, traditional cable operator Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) surprised investors by announcing its plans to buy General Electric's remaining 49% stake in NBC Universal. The $16.7 billion deal comes much sooner than expected. Nevertheless, the deal gives Comcast full control over NBCU's cable networks and film studios, which is important in terms of content strategy.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts admits this is a change in tack: "Initially, 'we wanted to get bigger in distribution,' [Roberts] says, but after noticing how content gained value with new technologies, the company decided to diversify." This latest transaction, together with Comcast's initial 51% stake in NBCU from two years ago, makes Comcast the biggest media company in the U.S. by market cap, according to the Journal.
The Comcast NBCU deal is no doubt exciting. However, it is also a big bet on traditional media at a time when Internet streaming companies such as Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Amazon.com are gaining serious momentum.
Shares of Comcast are up more than 7% year to date.
Position means everything
Netflix also made headlines this week when the company announced a partnership with DreamWorks Animation (NASDAQ:DWA) to develop a new children's series. By producing an original animated children's show based on DreamWorks' upcoming flick Turbo, Netflix is aiming for a bigger chunk of family viewers.
The company's move to add more kid-friendly content complements Netflix's recent deal with Disney (NYSE:DIS). In December, Netflix outbid pay-TV network Starz (NASDAQ:STRZA) for exclusive rights to Disney and Pixar movies. However, there's a catch. Disney currently has a contract with Starz that doesn't end until 2015. As a result, Netflix subscribers will have to wait three years before they can stream the latest Disney movies via Netflix.
Perhaps the bright side of having to wait until 2016 for exclusivity is that it gives Netflix time to raise additional capital. Content isn't cheap, and it's only getting more expensive. While exact financials for the Netflix-Disney deal weren't disclosed, some analysts estimate the cost to Netflix to be around $300 million or more per year.
That's no small price to pay. In fact, one analyst with Stifel Nicolaus says Netflix will need to add 3.7 million new subscribers each year in order to justify the cost of the Disney content. We'll have to wait to see if these titles pay off and help Netflix attract new subscribers. However, for the time being, Netflix stock is riding high on the recent media news.
Shares of Netflix are up more than 101% year-to-date.
Cable TV giant Starz rebounded from its lost Disney contract by extending a deal with Sony earlier this week. Under the terms of the deal, Starz gets to keep the rights to movies from Sony Pictures through 2021 -- including new releases.
The news sent Starz stock higher by more than 7% on Monday. Meanwhile, shares of the premium cable channel are up more than 40% year to date.
Second helping? Yes, please
Last, but certainly not least is Amazon's deal with CBS, which the online retailer announced on Monday. This isn't the first time that Amazon has licensed content from CBS. In 2011, shortly after Amazon launched its Prime Instant Video service, the two inked a deal that let Amazon Prime members stream select CBS content including the Star Trek series.
This week the Amazon-CBS relationship was extended to include such shows as America's Next Top Model and Everyone Loves Raymond. But the good news doesn't stop there.
Following the deal this week, Amazon Prime members will be able to stream Steven King's Under the Dome series. This, along with a PBS deal for exclusive rights to its popular show Downton Abbey, gives viewers a reason to choose Amazon Instant streaming services over competitors, such as Netflix.
Shares of Amazon are up more than 7% year to date, and trade around $266 apiece.
Watch and learn
There's no disputing the fact that it's been a busy week for entertainment companies. And if this week's media deals have taught us anything, it's that exclusivity rights and original content will play an important role in the industry going forward.
Fool contributor Tamara Rutter owns shares of Walt Disney, Walt Disney, Amazon.com, and Amazon.com. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, DreamWorks Animation, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, General Electric Company, Netflix, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.