Cingular, AT&T Wireless Merger Approved

The Federal Communications Commission is poised to announce it will allow Cingular Wireless to purchase AT&T Wireless on the condition that the companies divest themselves of some of the customers and airwaves they now control.

The Department of Justice (DoJ), which had been weighing the antitrust implications of the US$41 billion mega-merger, also agreed to the deal and the conditions, according to widely published reports that indicate a formal decision will be announced this week.

The deal, first announced in February of this year, would create the largest single wireless carrier in the U.S. It would also reduce the number of major carriers from six to five, something consumer advocates have expressed concern about.

After the merger, Cingular, which is a joint venture co-owned by SBC Communications and BellSouth, would have about 47.6 million customers, or approximately 27 percent of the U.S. market, vaulting it ahead of Verizon for the top spot.

The approval reportedly comes with the condition that the combined company must sell off AT&T assets in some 16 cities, most in the south and Midwest. It is also expected to come with a cap on how much of the wireless spectrum the newly created company can control in any given market.

The FCC could not be reached for comment but did not include any mention of the merger in a daily briefing memorandum sent to members of the press. A DoJ spokesman said the department was not yet prepared to issue a statement on the merger.

Impact Disputed

Published reports suggested the FCC voted last week to approve the merger, with Democrats on the Republican-controlled commission pushing for the concessions and conditions. It is typical in such cases for the details of complex decisions to be shared with affected parties before being made public.

Some consumer groups have raised concerns about the merger, which was said to be among the largest all-cash transactions in U.S. corporate history.

Perhaps sensing the FCC and DoJ would approve the merger, the Consumer Federation of America this summer began lobbying attorneys general in several southern states to launch their own inquiries into the impacts of the merger.

“The merger is anti-competitive from every angle,” said senior director of public policy Gene Kimmelman. In some areas, the merger will give SBC or BellSouth market dominance in both local phone service and wireless, in some instances, outpacing its nearest competitor by two-to-one margins on both fronts. “Competition will be weakened.”

Such concerns might have been somewhat muted by the fact that AT&T Wireless had been shedding customers, suffering from one of the highest turnover rates in the industry, a problem exacerbated by some early technological problems and a trend accelerated by the advent of wireless number portability last year.

The company said it reversed that trend in its latest earnings release, but acknowledged it had to spend more to keep customers from straying, and as a result, saw profit levels fall substantially.

The merger will leave a handful of major players, with Sprint in third place nationwide.

Difficult Transition

As rigorous as the review process might have been, and as much as Cingular might be reluctant to exercise the conditions, the hardest part of the merger may yet lie ahead, analysts say.

Cingular executives have already begun to warn financial analysts that customer losses might be substantial in the months after the merger goes through, as networks are integrated and changes, most likely including layoffs — the companies have said they can save as much as $1 billion a year by merger — take place.

“Wireless customer bases see substantial churn in even the best of circumstances,” said Gartner principal analyst Tole Hart. “They’ve started to get better at it by giving customers more choice and freedom only very recently.”

The inevitable turmoil of a merger, especially one that will require a divestment of some customers and physical assets, will be ripe for competitors, he added. “They’re going to have to move quickly to protect their customer base from the competition,” Hart said.

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Walmart Announces Merchandise Hub for Netflix

Walmart and Netflix are teaming up to sell merchandise pegged to the streaming media provider’s content.

“Through this new partnership, Walmart will not only offer products that bring the imagination of Netflix creators into reality, but Walmart customers and Netflix superfans will also find a new, exciting entertainment destination,” Walmart Executive Vice President Jeff Evans wrote in a news release Monday.

“The Netflix Hub brings together some of its most popular shows in its first digital storefront with a national retailer,” he added.

Merchandise will be tied to such shows as “Stranger Things,” “Nailed It!,” “CoComelon” and “Ada Twist, Scientist.”

Among the items offered when the Hub opens this fall are the Ada Twist Cuddle Plush ($10.97), “Squid Game” t-shirts, the “Stranger Things” Bluetooth cassette player ($64.88) and the Witcher Netflix Transformed Geralt Dark Horse Collectible Statue ($59.88).

Evans also noted the Hub will also offer a feature called Netflix Fan Select. It offers fans of Netflix shows an opportunity to vote for merchandise they’d like to see from the service’s stable of favorites.

Competing With Amazon

The new partnership will have benefits for both Walmart and Netflix.

Walmart wants to compete with Amazon, and part of that competition includes streaming services, maintained Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.

“A partnership with Netflix could be used for further collaboration. Walmart might start offering select content from Netflix, for example,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“There’s a lot of ways it could work without Walmart offering the full-blown Netflix service,” he added.

Zain Akbari, the equity analyst for Walmart at Morningstar, an investment research company in Chicago, noted that the partnership allows the retailer to capitalize on media-linked commerce without making the kind of investment Amazon made to do it.

Although Walmart sold its Vudu streaming service in 2020, its interest in interactive and shoppable media remains, he explained.

“From its standpoint a deal like this allows Walmart to focus on what it does best while leaving the content side of the equation to an established leading player,” Akbari told the E-Commerce Times. “Ultimately, it’s another avenue by which Walmart can expand its building e-commerce footprint.”

Good Business Move

“Allying itself with one of the two streaming market leaders — Netflix and YouTube both capture about six percent of total TV time — makes good business sense for Walmart,” added Charles King, the principal analyst at Pund-IT, a technology advisory firm in Hayward, Calif.

“The new storefront should please the company’s existing clients and attract new customers, and also provide a point of competitive differentiation from Amazon,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Having exclusivity on products from Netflix’s hit shows is another benefit of its new partnership.

“Squid Game is a perfect example,” noted Michael Inouye, a principal analyst atABI Research.

“You can imagine what the opportunity would look like if this partnership was already in place and Walmart was the only place for official Squid Game Halloween costumes,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

He added that there is a lot of value but also a lot of cost in original programming, but to date, no one has done as well as Netflix with it.

“This allows Walmart to generate some of the same benefits to their core operations of an in-house streaming service without having to make those investments in original content,” he said.

Bricks and Mortar Prize

Netflix, too, benefits from the new arrangement.

“Walmart’s massive size and geographic reach make it a great partner for Netflix to reach shoppers,” King observed. “The new store should help drive sales during the upcoming holiday shopping season.”

“Netflix has tried for a while to monetize its content other ways. Selling merchandise is one of them,” added Morningstar Netflix equity analyst Neil Macker.

“Netflix is not an e-commerce company,” he continued. “It’s a streaming company. It has a different business model than a pure e-commerce company. By working with Walmart, they can get help with building a site, fulfillment, shipping and things like that.”

Netflix is also looking to diversify beyond subscriptions for its streaming service.

“It’s already announced its movement into games,” Rubin noted. “This is a way to take a page from Disney’s playbook.”

“Disney is very skilled at driving merchandise from characters in its franchises,” he continued. “Walmart offers a strong retail presence from which Netflix could potentially build that and realize more revenue from its original content and franchises.”

Netflix may also be looking beyond online involvement with Walmart.

“If Netflix could get into Walmart’s brick and mortar stores, that would be the bigger prize for Netflix,” he said. “To have a section of the stores promoting its properties would be a big win for Netflix.”

Crucial Channel

Inouye believes that in time, Walmart will become a crucial distribution channel for Netflix.

“Since many of Netflix’s shows are launched all at once — although there are a growing number that launch on a timed schedule — it can be extra challenging for Netflix to keep excitement up around a TV series when the next launch may be more than a year away,” he explained.

“Having merchandise and content to keep fans invested and engaged in this popular IP is massive for Netflix,” he said.

Creating original content can be a hit or miss proposition, he noted. Selling merchandise can help offset the cost of the misses.

Like Disney, Netflix would like to leverage its IP well beyond the video content itself, he maintained.

“Netflix is still in its early days here,” he said, “but it is starting to expand into new territories and opportunities and the Walmart deal could become a key piece to that strategy.”

“This is particularly critical in those markets, like North America, where future subscription growth is limited,” Inouye added.

“In these more mature markets revenue growth has to come from price increases or these alternate channels,” he continued. “The latter allows them to keep engagement higher, bring additional revenue, while ideally slowing the rate of subscription price hikes, which helps maintain — and slowly grow — the installed base.”

“Other content companies have looked to marketing and selling merchandise to bring additional revenue by capitalizing on hot IP — Rovio for example has done this with its “Angry Birds” IP — but with Netflix, this could be on another scale,” he concluded.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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Intuit’s $12B Mailchimp Purchase Breathes New Life Into Email Marketing

Intuit on Monday announced an agreement to acquire Mailchimp, a global customer engagement and marketing platform for small and mid-market businesses, for $12 billion in cash and stock advances. The purchase could be the linchpin that thrusts the mostly financial software company into solving more fertile mid-market business challenges for its customers.

The planned acquisition is part of Intuit’s mission to become an AI-driven expert platform. With the acquisition of Mailchimp, Intuit will accelerate two of its previously-shared strategic big bets: to become the center of small business growth and to disrupt the small business mid-market, said the company in its announcement.

Intuit’s acquisition of Mailchimp sends a great message to all entrepreneurs around the globe that venture capital is not always necessary, observed Michael Kawula, co-founder of CBA, a marketing agency for YouTube monetization. Mailchimp is a bootstrapped success story that has not raised any outside venture capital.

“This is a very clever growth strategy for Intuit, who wants to get in front of SMBs, which is difficult and expensive. Similar to HubSpot’s recent purchase of The Hustle newsletter, a much smaller acquisition, this also is brilliant,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The acquisition marks a significant impact in industry, according to Osiris Parikh, sales marketing manager at Lilius. He also sees the deal as another reminder that email marketing is not dead — and data is power.

“Intuit has made a strong move to broaden its portfolio and become a leader in catering to the needs of SMBs. It is also a great story of success during Covid-19,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Deal Basics

Intuit provides a global technology platform that makes TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint, and Credit Karma. Intuit and Mailchimp will offer an innovative, end-to-end customer growth platform that allows customers to get their business online. It will also enable them to manage marketing, customer relationships, payment processes, and access insights and analytics, along with optimizing their cash flow and staying compliant with experts at their fingertips, according to Intuit.

Key to this process is Intuit’s ability to enable businesses to combine their customer data from Mailchimp and QuickBooks’ purchase data to get the actionable insights they need to grow and run their businesses with confidence.

“We’re focused on powering prosperity around the world for consumers and small businesses. Together, Mailchimp and QuickBooks will help solve small and mid-market businesses’ biggest barriers to growth, getting and retaining customers,” said Sasan Goodarzi, CEO of Intuit.

Mailchimp brings to Intuit technology at scale along with global customer reach.

Founded in Atlanta, in 2001, Mailchimp began by offering email marketing solutions. The company evolved into offering customer engagement and marketing automation processes fueled by an AI-driven technology stack. Mailchimp’s data and technology spans 70 billion contacts and more than 250 rich partner integrations. Its AI-powered automation at scale fuels 2.2 million daily predictions.

“Over the past two decades, we have vastly expanded and evolved Mailchimp’s platform to help millions of small businesses around the world start and grow,” said Ben Chestnut, CEO and co-founder of Mailchimp.

Why Mailchimp’s Worth It

While the email marketing sector is pretty crowded, Mailchimp stands out in terms of size and scope. The company reportedly has 13 million total global users, 2.4 million active monthly users, and 800,000 paid customers, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“Plus, half of its customers are outside of the U.S. Additionally, while people tend to focus on the mass/might of large enterprises, small businesses are really the heart and soul of most economies,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The acquisition likely represents a lucrative opportunity for Intuit to integrate Mailchimp data with QuickBooks and provide greater analytical capabilities to customers. The synthesis of financial and marketing data in this case provides valuable and actionable insights about an organization’s clients, added Lilus’ Parikh.

“It’s also a great diversification of offerings to centralize SMB operations through one platform and benefit from Mailchimp’s established user base,” he said.

Another supporting factor for Intuit’s interest in Mailchimp is the renewed stature of email, according to Elice Max, co-owner of EMUCoupon and someone who has been involved in online marketing for eight years.

“Email marketing has made a comeback in recent years. With increased digitization caused by the pandemic, all digital mediums including email have gained a renewed importance,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Email Marketing’s Resurgence

Technology giants are looking to build more integrated and holistic solutions. Microsoft recently bought Clipchamp, a video production tool. Both companies are looking to build platforms for the new tech-savvy SMBs, Max Suggested.

“More than anything, it means a renewed confidence in the field. Experts have been talking about the death of email marketing for a while now. But a $12 billion acquisition by a big player like Intuit means email promotion is alive and kicking,” she said.

Another factor is Intuit keeping its eye on the ball. It is important to remember the significance of Mailchimp as the pioneer in marketing automation and email marketing in particular.

“Intuit is looking to make a statement that it wants to become more than a financial software company,” Max observed.

QuickBooks Synergies

One of the motivations that lies behind Intuit’s purchase of Mailchimp is its desire to lead a revolution in the CRM capabilities of SMBs, according to Will Ward, CEO of Translation Equipment HQ . Think about the effect the pandemic has had on the popularity of remote work and the amount of remote SMBs being established.

“You would expect there to be a lot of growth potential here in the next few years. With Mailchimp and QuickBooks, Intuit is providing an end-to-end customer growth platform, and with around $20 billion invested already its belief in SMBs is evident,” Ward told the E-Commerce Times.

Like any other system that handles transactions such as orders and payments, you need to work closer to the actual customer channels. With the Intuit e-commerce product, launched about a year ago, this seems like a natural step by adding marketing automation and reaching out with its e-commerce offering to the MailChimp customer base, suggested Johan Liljeros, general manager and senior commerce advisor, North America for Avensia.

“The acquisition has added synergies between the platforms while still being able to operate as independent platforms. Looking at Intuit’s offerings, it appears they are moving towards expanding [into] digital transactional experience,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Final Thoughts

Email marketers should be ready for disruption along with other business services providers. Intuit has been both savvy and aggressive in the way it built its business, effectively becoming the 800-pound gorilla of small business accounting and tax solutions, according to Pund-IT’s King.

“With that kind of ally behind Mailchimp, life is going to become a whole lot more ‘interesting’ for other email marketers,” he predicted.

The Intuit-Mailchimp deal should offer Intuit customers significant benefits, such as new solutions and services for bolstering their businesses. At the same time, the deal highlights the fact that old technologies can continue to be vital and dynamic.

“For years, many have claimed that email is dead or dying and quickly being replaced by whatever the tech du jour happens to be. Mailchimp — and now Intuit — beg to differ,” King quipped.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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