Stirring the Disney/Apple M&A Stew

The Daily Observations

The tragedy in Hingham may have been an accident, Best Buy warns of too few iPhone 14 Pros, and somebody still wants Apple to buy Disney…

Driver Says Apple Store Crash Accidental; Faces Reckless Homicide Charge

So the guy who drove his SUV into an Apple Store on Monday says it was an accident. I’m sure you remember the story: A black SUV drove through the front of the Apple Derby Street Center location in Hingham, MA about an hour after it opened. The vehicle ended up at the back of the store, killing one individual and leaving ~20 injured. 

Now, The Mac Observer says the driver of the SUV, a 53-year-old resident of Hingham, “told authorities his foot became stuck on the accelerator pedal, and he could not recover it.” He says “he tried braking with his left foot but wasn’t able to stop the vehicle.” The driver told police he has “no medical issues that would affect his ability to drive” and that “he has been servicing his vehicle regularly.” There was also no alcohol in his system, according to authorities. The piece says he’s “been charged with motor vehicle homicide by reckless operation and reckless operation of a motor vehicle.” As of yesterday, he was being held on $100,000 bail.

Local News Questions Lack of Posts Outside Apple Store

In the wake of the Hingham tragedy, local outlet Boston 25 News raised a question I’d raised on Tuesday’s Daily Observations Podcast: Where were the big pillars that are supposed to stop such things from happening? According to the report:

The Storefront Safety Council told Boston 25 that crashes like this happen around 100 times a day around the country and that there have been more than 800 in Massachusetts alone in the past decade.

State legislators in Massachusetts actually introduced a bill in 2019 meant to address storefront safety. The report says, “The goal was to install retaining walls or pillars known as bollards in front of more commercial buildings.” Annoyingly, the report does not make clear what happened to that legislation.

Best Buy Warns of iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max Shortage

If you’re planning to hit up Best Buy for an iPhone 14 Pro — it might be a little late. We talked last week about how if you wanted one of Apple’s latest Pro phones from Apple by Christmas, but had not ordered yet — you would need a time machine. We also talked about Best Buy showing ready availability of the Pro phones, provided you were cool with a carrier contract. 

Best Buy may not be the hero it was last week. 9to5Mac ran a piece Tuesday that had the electronics seller:

…warning that it is seeing strong demand for the flagship iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max devices, and it doesn’t have the supply to be able to keep up with that demand.

Stinks for buyers. Stinks for Best Buy. 9to5Mac goes on to say:

The shortage of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max is something that Best Buy is being forced to factor into its earnings guidance for the holiday shopping quarter this year. The company instead will rely on a “ramp up in deals and discounts” to bring more shoppers into stores.

Divisions Overseeing Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant See Job Cuts

If you ask the average user of multiple voice assistants, many will say that Amazon’s is superior to Apple’s. And yet, a piece from Ars Technica says inside Amazon, many are seeing their own voice assistant as a “colossal failure.” 

As with so many tech companies these days, Amazon is cutting staff — somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 jobs, according to the report. One of the areas hardest hit will be Amazon’s voice assistant unit, according to the the piece, because it is bleeding money. Quoting Ars:

The [voice assistant] division is part of the “Worldwide Digital” group along with Amazon Prime video (…) that division [reportedly] lost $3 billion in just the first quarter of 2022, with “the vast majority” of the losses blamed on [Amazon’s voice assistant]. That is apparently double the losses of any other division, and the report says the hardware team is on pace to lose $10 billion this year. It sounds like Amazon is tired of burning through all that cash.

The Echo Is a Top Seller, But That Doesn’t Help Matters

At first, it’s hard to see what the problem would be. Echo hardware sells like hotcakes. The problem is the hardware sells at close to break even. The plan had been to get the things into consumers’ homes and monetize that placement. Didn’t really pan out (or, hasn’t panned out yet). The piece says, “Not many people want to trust an AI with spending their money or buying an item without seeing a picture or reading reviews.” By the fourth year of Amazon’s voice assistant experiment (now in its tenth big year, apparently), it “was getting a billion interactions a week, but most of those conversations were trivial commands to play music or ask about the weather.”

Ars Technica raises a sensible question: Does this mean that all voice assistants are doomed? The piece says:

Google expressed basically identical problems [as those seen by Amazon] with the Google Assistant business model last month. There’s an inability to monetize the simple voice commands most consumers actually want to make, and all of Google’s attempts to monetize assistants with display ads and company partnerships haven’t worked. With the product sucking up server time and being a big money loser, Google responded just like Amazon by cutting resources to the division.

Then sitting on the side is Apple’s voice assistant. The piece says it can “be a loss leader for iPhone sales…” 

The Wrap Writes Up Apple/Disney Merger Possibility

And finally today, there’s a guy out there spinning an “Apple buying Disney” story that reminds me of Gene Munster and his belief in the full-on Apple television. For years Mr. Munster was convinced that Apple would make a great big TV, rather than the set-side streaming device on which it eventually settled. Well — a streaming device and an app that can run on just about everything with a screen. If you asked Mr. Munster which was the more sure thing — the sun coming up or a full-on Apple television, I think he’d have had a hard time deciding.

I’m not saying that Joe Bel Bruno’s conviction that Apple will buy Disney is quite that strong, but he does seem to believe. I said earlier this week that there was a guy out there who’d heard from people inside Disney that wanted Apple to buy the entertainment giant. Bel Bruno is that guy. He laid out what he’d heard a couple of weeks ago in a series of Twitter posts. Of course, that was back when Bob Chapek was running Disney. When news hit earlier this week that Bob Iger was back in Disney’s corner office, I wondered whether M&A talk around Apple and Disney would cool. It actually seems to have heated talk up, as far as Bel Bruno is concerned. 

The Wrap Reiterates Apple + Disney Deal Possibility

Writing for The Wrap, Bel Bruno has an unnamed Disney insider who’s worked with Iger before saying, “He’s going to sell the company,” and, “This is the pinnacle deal for the ultimate dealmaker.” Quoting the report:

Landing a deal with Apple (or some other megabuyer) would also cement Iger’s legacy. “I think he’d welcome it — he’d be the last CEO of Disney,” a former top Disney executive told TheWrap, noting that the two companies have “similar brand identities” and could benefit from a merger.

What’s frustrating is — the piece never says how. It never illustrates how the two companies could benefit from a merger. It does point out though that:

Acquisitions are in Iger’s DNA. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney went on a nearly $100 billion shopping spree to buy animation giant Pixar in 2006, superhero juggernaut Marvel in 2009, “Star Wars”-powered Lucasfilm in 2012 and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox in 2019. 

But the Apple + Disney merger is “the one that got away,” in Bel Bruno’s estimation — not that finally marrying the two would be easy. Iger’s close ties were with Apple under Steve Jobs, not Apple under Tim Cook. It’s unclear how the “new” dynamics would play out. While Cook & Co. might like the idea, regulatory approval is far from certain given the general distrust of big tech among legislators around the globe. 

Financially, the deal is doable. Bel Bruno seems to like it because he thinks Disney and Iger would like it. But Bel Bruno’s an entertainment-business guy. He seems to give the Apple side of the equation barely a thought. 

The idea is so big it’s hard not to think about it. It’s difficult not to get drawn in. And it’s reminiscent of Gene Munster’s full-on Apple television.

Neither Apple nor Disney offered comment for Bel Bruno’s write-up for The Wrap. 

Today on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

News on the Hingham Apple Store tragedy, stirring the Apple/Disney M&A stew, and the noise around various voice assistants — we’re wrapping a holiday shortened week with TMO Managing Editor Jeff Butts. That’s all today on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

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