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What the Beats is Going on? Thoughts on Apple Acquiring Beats

Apple is reportedly interested in acquiring Beats for $3.2 billion. 

Here’s what I’m thinking:

1) Separate the rumored deal price from the transaction.  It’s a lot of money for Apple and in many ways focusing too much on the money will make it difficult to focus on the underlining acquisition target. 

2) What is Beats?  While everyone seems to have a different answer, to me Beats is a start-up music company that is after one thing: music mind share. Think of music and Beats comes to mind, right? No? Well give it a few more years and the growing popularity of those “obnoxiously large” headphones may change things.  Co-founded by intelligent musicians (and businessmen) who “get” music, Beats knows what it is doing and more importantly what it’s after.  Headphones, stereo equipment, music streaming service, and the list goes on. Beats wants to own music. 

3) Apple is Afraid. I suspect Apple feels threatened as its mind share for music is declining. The iPod died on behalf of its older sibling, the iPhone, and following its death, the grip Apple had on music has started to slip. Think of digital music, and Pandora or Spotify may come to mind. Beats could very well be on the same path of music stardom. This past holiday shopping season, Beats headphones were everywhere (and people were buying them in droves). Walk down the street and you could tell when someone was wearing Beats. For the first time, the white EarPod was being threatened. Who knows what things would look like in a few years. Apple would be looking to change that with this acquisition. I suspect Apple is interested in buying Beats to gain music mind share.  

4) Similar Cultures. Beats and Apple share similar cultures where passion is the ultimate driver. While there would undoubtedly be segments or pieces of Beats that Apple will shutter, Beats could very easily represent a decently sized (fewer than 200 people) division within the Apple system. Sure, this would mark a departure from the way things have been, but judging from Disney’s success, sometimes you have to let the past go and embrace the future. 

5) Let’s go back to price. I think Apple is overpaying for Beats. Recent valuations pegged the music streaming service at around $100 million with the entire company worth a reportedly $1 billion last year. While additional details may come out in the coming days I suspect Apple is overpaying to avoid others from coming in and competing over price. It’s a lot of money for any company, and regardless of how much cash Apple has in its bank account, it’s still a lot of money. To me this means Apple is serious about this bet.  

6) Lots of unanswered questions.

- Will Apple actually promote the Beats brand post acquisition? Such an idea is still hard to grasp, but maybe they would have to in order to maintain a gripe on the music mind share they are acquiring.  Is the reason Beats headphones are popular because they aren’t Apple branded?  If I had to bet I would say Apple walks a thin line introducing new Apple-branded music product, while also keeping the Beats brand around.  Such an idea is still hard to swallow though…

- Will there be a Beats brain drain (employees leave) and does it even matter?

- How will this impact future Apple products? I suspect we are going to see Apple attempt a very significant push at a true music streaming service where I can have any song, when I want it (NOT RADIO), wherever I want it…and it would be free for iOS users signed up for Apple’s new mobile payment system.  

- Will this open the floodgates to additional Apple acquisitions?  If the answer is yes, then we may be entering a new era in tech M&A as the biggest tech company in existence is officially an acquirer (I don’t think this is the case though). 

Acquiring Beats would be a new type of transaction for Apple. While there are similarities to previous acquisitions, there are just as many differences and for the first time we may be seeing Apple “doing what is right” - fighting for its survival. Apple wants to own music

14 hour update: After plenty of Twitter discussions and thought, the only additional comments I have include:

1) Jimmy Iovine may play a big role. If the $3.2 billion price tag holds up, it becomes obvious that Apple is paying for intangibles (branding, music industry relationships) and not current products or services.   In essence, Apple would be buying the music industry - something that Apple would not be able to do organically. Iovine has been critical of iTunes and it’s possible Apple wants him to revamp iTunes and bring the service into a new era (with the full support of the music industry).  

2) Would Apple replace the iTunes brand with Beats? Is it possible for a declining consumer electronics brand (iTunes) to turn around and regain its strength? Maybe the only way for Apple to regain its grip on music is to update its branding from iTunes to Beats (among other things).  In such a case, a $3 billion price tag doesn’t seem as crazy.