My favorite analysts are split on the idea of Apple buying Netflix. Here is one compelling case by Ben Thompson why Apple should pull the trigger:
The problem Apple has in premium video — and given that the company has been trying and failing to secure video content on its terms for years now, it definitely has a problem — is that its executives seem to have forgotten just how important the piracy leverage was to the iTunes Music Store’s success. This Wall Street Journal story from this past summer is one of many similar stories over the years detailing Apple’s take-it-or-leave-it approach to premium video content:
[Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy] Cue is also known for a hard-nosed negotiating style. One cable-industry executive sums up Mr. Cue’s strategy as saying: “We’re Apple”…TV-channel owners “kept looking at the Apple guys like: ‘Do you have any idea how this industry works?’” one former Time Warner Cable executive says…Mr. Cue has said the TV industry overly complicated talks. “Time is on my side,” he has told some media executives.
Time may be on Apple’s side, but the bigger issue for Cue and Apple is that leverage is not; that belongs to the company that is actually threatening premium content makers: Netflix. Netflix is the “piracy” of video content, but unfortunately for Apple they are a real company capable of using the leverage they have acquired.
Ben's argument is all about leverage:
[…] Apple’s desire to be “the one place to access all of your television” implies the disintermediation of Netflix to just another content provider, right alongside its rival HBO and the far more desperate networks who lack any sort of customer relationship at all. It is directly counter to the strategy that has gotten Netflix this far — owning the customer relationship by delivering a superior customer experience — and while Apple may wish to pursue the same strategy, the company has no leverage to do so. Not only is the Apple TV just another black box that connects to your TV (that is also the most expensive), it also, conveniently for Netflix, has a (relatively) open app platform: Netflix can deliver their content on their terms on Apple’s hardware, and there isn’t much Apple can do about it.
The truth is that Apple’s executives seem stuck in the iPod/iTunes era, where selling 70% of all music players led to leverage over the music labels; with streaming content is available on any device at any time, which means that selling hardware isn’t a point of leverage. If Apple wants its usual ownership of end users it needs to buy its way in, and that means buying Netflix.
Since the iPod/iTunes era, Apple has always been about hardware-software-content to out-integrate its competitors. Netflix has always become a dominant player in video streaming and with Amazon touting its own hardware and streaming video content, Apple now has serious threats to its TV ambitions with no leverage.
As Ben argues, the only way Apple can compete is to buy leverage. And that means buying Netflix.