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Article from NYTimes.

Japanese companies have made a string of deals in the United States this year, but the pact announced on Monday is one for the record books.

The agreement by SoftBank to take control of Sprint Nextel is the biggest deal by a Japanese company in the United States since at least 1980, according to Thomson Reuters, which values the deal at $23.3 billion.

That far exceeds the next-largest deal, the $9.8 billion stake that NTT DoCoMo, SoftBank’s rival, took in AT&T Wireless in 2000.

The SoftBank deal is also worth more than some recent takeovers, including Takeda Pharmaceutical’s 2008 purchase of Millennium Pharmaceuticals for $8.1 billion. It also tops the $7.8 billion agreement the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group struck with Morgan Stanley in the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, according to Thomson Reuters data.

It also ranks as the biggest foreign deal involving an investment in an American company so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters.

The deal on Monday is a welcome development for the financial advisers involved, in a year starved for deal activity.

The agreement has lifted Citigroup, an adviser to Sprint, to sixth from seventh place in the Thomson Reuters global league table this year. Sprint’s other advisers, UBS and Rothschild, each moved up one spot as well.

One of SoftBank’s advisers, the Raine Group, entered this year’s league table in 30th place after the deal. (The deal is the group’s biggest, according to Thomson Reuters.) The Mizuho Financial Group, another SoftBank adviser, rose to 17th place from 22nd.

For American consumers, SoftBank is set to be the latest Japanese company to make its mark on daily life in this country.

In 1989, the Mitsubishi Estate Company made headlines with a deal to buy a 51 percent stake in the Rockefeller Group in New York. (The stake eventually grew to 100 percent, after Rockefeller went through bankruptcy.)

Craig Moffett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, drew a comparison to that deal last week, when Sprint confirmed it was in talks with SoftBank.

“This is tantamount to Japanese buyers buying Rockefeller Center,” he said.

The year 1989 was also when the Japanese electronics giant Sony took a foothold in Hollywood. Its roughly $4.7 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures Entertainment was a blockbuster at the time.

SoftBank’s shares fell 5.3 percent in Tokyo on Monday, with investors concerned over the company’s ability to turn around the ailing Sprint.

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Article from TechCrunch.

“Vente-privee, the French flash sales juggernaut, announced in May 2011 that it had teamed up with American Express to form a joint-venture for its U.S. operations (dubbed vente-privee USA). Earlier today, the company announced the latest members of its management team, which is headed by vente-privee USA CEO Mike Steib.

The hires that I thought were most notable were those of John Saroff and Jill Szuchmacher, who both previously served in leadership roles to grow the Google TV business.

Saroff has joined vente-privee USA as VP of Digital Factory and Sales Production – he will lead the creative development and production of each sale event including photo shoots, music, trailers and online boutiques for each partner. At Google, Saroff headed TV Ads and Strategic Partnerships.

Jill Szuchmacher will be leading business development for vente-privee USA as Vice President. She previously served as Director of Business Development at Google, most recently heading up commercialization for Google TV, leading engagements with partners such as Sony, Vizio, Netflix, Twitter, and Amazon.

According to their LinkedIn profiles, they left Google around the same time, which speaks volumes about Google TV, which has seen very slow uptake since its introduction earlier this year.

Other hires include Robin Domeniconi, who joins as VP of Marketing after servering as SVP and Chief Brand Officer at Elle Group, and Nicolas Genest, a former Microsoft engineer who is making the jump from vente-privee to vente-privee USA to serve as VP of Technology.

Other new members of the company’s leadership team are Laure de Metz (formerly VP of Licensing for Marc Jacobs International) and Tim Quinn (formerly VP Investments, Integration and Measurement at American Express).

No word about the launch date of vente-privee’s dedicated US site.”

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By Ben Kunz

A bold, new Apple TV set would replace today’s cable systems, game consoles, and 3D goggles—and launch a war with cable providers.

Get ready, America, because by Christmas 2012 you will have an Apple TV in your living room. I don’t mean the cute little box now called “Apple TV” that plugs into your set to stream Netflix (NFLX), but the real deal—a flat-panel Apple (AAPL) television set tied to the company’s online ecosystem and designed as only Apple can do it.

There’s a $14 billion rationale for this prediction but first, let’s explore the rumors. This summer Piper Jaffray (PJC) analyst Gene Munster dug through component suppliers and found evidence that Apple is gearing up to produce a real TV set by late 2012. Venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, a former board member at TiVo (TIVO), has published rumors that Apple has a television coming. And Steve Jobs himself hinted last year that Apple might build a real television unit.

“The television industry … pretty much undermines innovation in the sector,” Jobs said at the All Things Digital Conference in July 2010. “The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign, and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it.”
Jobs’s quote is good advice for his successor as chief executive officer, Tim Cook, who needs a hit. The TV industry is changing more than at any time in the past 50 years, and billions of dollars are going into play for the winners. As Apple crests in the phone and tablet markets, its investors will want a new frontier.

TV is the future because it remains king of all media. While handsets get hyped, the typical U.S. consumer watches 5 hours and 9 minutes of TV a day, according to Nielsen (NLSN), and even younger adults 18 to 24 years old—the supposed digital generation—view 3 hours and 30 minutes on televisions daily, vs. only 49 minutes on the Web and 20 minutes on mobile. We all love to lean back. With so much of the consumer’s time, TV has become bloated with waste. The average U.S. home receives 130 cable channels but “tunes to”—or punches in the exact channel number on the remote—just 18 channels a year. Channel surfing has died. A whopping 86% of available channels are never used by an individual viewer.
Lots of Disenchanted TV Subscribers

Consumers pay a lot for all this video waste and they don’t like it. The average cable bill is $75 per month, which means that each year 83 million households pay $74 billion to the top eight TV-subscription services. This is why so-called “cord cutting,” by which consumers drop cable to watch videos on Roku, Hulu, or the Xbox 360 from Microsoft is (MSFT) accelerating; Comcast (CMCSA), the leading U.S. cable system, lost 238,000 subscribers in the second quarter. If Apple were to offer a better service, people might pay up for it.

A second lure for Apple is TV advertising. Unlike U.S. mobile-ad spending, which EMarketer says will barely break $1 billion in 2010 despite years of hype, the TV ad spend in the U.S. totaled $70 billion in 2010 and is forecast by Forrester Research (FORR) to reach $84 billion by 2015. If Apple could gain just 10% of the $74 billion in current video subscription fees and $70 billion in television ad media, it would take in more than $14 billion in additional annual, recurring revenue.

Apple faces plenty of hurdles. For one thing, TV sets are an infrequent purchase. Apple likes to sell products with built-in obsolescence that you “need” to replace every 18 months—iPhone 5, anyone?—and a flashy TV set doesn’t call for an aluminum upgrade next year. Apple also has struggled to get content providers to embrace its current Apple TV box. In August, Apple stopped renting TV shows for 99¢ on the gadget, claiming that consumers overwhelmingly prefer to buy TV shows. But it could be that Apple’s media partners considered 99¢ far too cheap. With billions of dollars at stake, media producers and cable giants will fiercely defend their video-distribution modes.

Apple noted this risk in its 2010 annual report, in which it said it “relies on third party digital content, which may not be available to the Company on commercially reasonable terms or at all.” Bear in mind that the record labels were losing to digital pirates when Apple’s iTunes came along to save them; the video giants have no similar motive to play along now.

TV as Bold as the IPhone

That’s not an insurmountable obstacle. Apple has some $76 billion in cash and a history of entering unexpected partnerships. AT&T (T) and Verizon helping to sell iPhones? Who’d have thought? The biggest fight may be with new video competitors that are emerging everywhere. Netflix has embedded itself in scores of hardware devices, including TV sets and the Wii from Sony (SNE). Google (GOOG) also has a TV service and its acquisition of Motorola shows that it also wants to own related hardware devices. To win the living room, Apple will need an innovation comparable to that of its iPhone—something that changes TV sets in a fundamental way.

What about 3D? In 2010, Apple won a patent for a revolutionary new 3D screen system that would not require glasses and could be viewed by multiple people at the same time. The patent went so far as to slam current 3D systems, noting that most people dislike goggles and dismissing current non-glasses systems as “essentially unworkable for projecting a 3D image … to an entire audience.”

What solution did Apple propose? An “unobstructed 3D viewing device” that would give each viewer a different line of sight for both left and right eye, perfecting a stereoscopic image for a group of viewers watching one giant screen. The Apple patent even had a cool name for the result: a hologram. Could Apple put holograms in every home, break the stranglehold of cable companies, and unlock a $14 billion TV revenue stream? It’s an audacious and perhaps crazy idea.

Tim Cook, I like the way you think.”

Ben Kunz is director of strategic planning at Mediassociates, a media planning and Internet strategy firm. He is author of the advertising strategy blog ThoughtGadgets.com.

 

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Article from SFGate.

“Here’s how effortless it is to move your digital music collection from Apple’s iTunes software to Amazon’s new Cloud Drive music service:

1. Visit Amazon.com, enter your user name and password, and find the link that says “upload files.”

2. Agree to the terms of service and solve a Captcha, one of those tricky image-recognition puzzles that prove you’re an human being.

3. Download Amazon’s MP3 uploader software, which scans the music on your hard drive.

4. Select about 1,000 of the gazillion songs you own and mark them for upload.

5. Wait around six hours for the upload to finish.

6. Download Amazon’s separate Cloud Player app for Android to stream that music to your phone, or use a Web browser to listen to it from any PC.

Sounds easy, right?

Welcome to the awkward stage of the digital music revolution. Online song sales have stagnated, depriving the endangered music industry of one of its last remaining lifelines. Yet digital music continues to be a vital battleground for Google, Apple and Amazon to try to lure users to their other devices and online offerings.

Now, Jeff Bezos & Co. have boldly tried to leapfrog Google and Apple in the quest to liberate people from the decade-old practice of buying and downloading digital songs to a computer and then manually transferring them between devices.

The idea behind “cloud music” is to let people stream their music collections from the Web to any computer or device. Analysts believe such services are inevitable – even if Amazon stumbles.

“Having access to your music on all your devices has to be the starting point of any next-generation music service and product,” said Mark Mulligan, an analyst at Forrester Research.

That’s the vision, but right now, the convoluted uploading process is the result of key trade-offs Amazon made to get to the cloud music market before its rivals.

Licensing deals

First, major labels want new licensing arrangements for cloud services and a bigger cut of the online music pie. Their demands have slowed down the introduction of cloud music features, and Amazon designed its service without their permission, instigating a wave of complaints from Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group.

“We’re disappointed by their decision to launch without a license,” said Brian Garrity, a spokesman for Sony.

Bill Carr, Amazon’s vice president for music and movies, claims Amazon “highly values” its relationship with the labels, but compares uploading songs to the legally harmless practice of attaching a hard drive to your PC and transferring music files to it.

Amazon primarily designed a service to comply with copyright laws – not to make shifting music to the cloud seamless. Amazon requires users to upload their own copies of songs that it could more easily supply from its digital store. Services like MyPlay and Mp3tunes have tried the same basic approach over the years. None attracted many users.

Amazon, which controls only about 13 percent of the digital music market despite four years of battling iTunes, apparently believes it has unique advantages in the coming cloud music battle.

Thanks to the massive server capacity backing its successful cloud computing business, in which it rents computing power to other companies, Amazon can offer its streaming music users 5 gigabytes of music storage for free, or 20 GB if they buy just one album from Amazon. The company is also prominently advertising the service on its home page.

“We observed from our other digital media businesses that buy-once, play-anywhere really resonates with consumers,” Carr said.

The service Amazon released last week has been criticized for being difficult to use and incompatible with Apple iPads and iPhones.

Not social

“There’s nothing social about it. How can you launch anything on the Web today that doesn’t integrate social?” said David Pakman, the former chief executive of eMusic and a partner at Palo Alto venture capital firm Venrock.

David Hyman, founder of Berkeley music subscription service Mog, says of Amazon’s cloud offering: “It’s a stepping-stone. This is Amazon putting its feet in and testing the waters.”

So what does the future of cloud music look like? Google, Apple or Amazon might finally get the major-label licenses that will allow them to make storing music collections in the cloud seamless for users. (Instead of uploading each song, the service could simply scan the names of songs in a collection and reproduce them in the cloud.) Or subscription music services such as Mog, Rdio and Rhapsody that offer unlimited access to a broad catalog of Web-based music for a monthly fee may find the mainstream success that has long eluded them.

Such an unlimited cloud music offering may be Amazon’s ultimate goal; Carr doesn’t rule out developing a music subscription service and offering it for free to members of Amazon Prime.

“This is an exciting Day One,” he said of Cloud Drive. “We always have an open mind.”

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