I’m traveling this week, and just caught up with the excellent report out yesterday from Barclays Equity Research’s Anthony DiClemente about the boom in TV syndication – and the implications for companies including Apple that want to bust the pay TV oligopoly. He observes that “monetization opportunities for TV programming have never been greater.” Studios collectively generate about $20B a year now — up from $10B in 2002 — selling shows to TV stations, cable networks, VOD, online subscription services such as Netflix, overseas outlets, and via home video including DVDs. What’s more, the business provides Big Media companies with a higher return on invested capital — the most crucial metric for shareholders — than most other lines: For example, CBS makes a 14% return from its TV studio vs 12% for the entire company while News Corp sees a return of 10% (vs 7% for the company overall) and Time Warner generates 9% (vs. 7%).

This is great news for the companies, but not so much for people hoping that Apple or some other technology provider will find a way to break up the pay TV bundle that requires subscribers to pay for channels that they don’t watch. Program producers have too much at stake, and will fight tooth and nail to defend the status quo “assuming their hand [isn't] forced through cord-cutting,” DiClemente says. Since so many different producers, networks, and distributors control so many different programming rights in pay TV, it “would be very difficult, not to mention expensive, for new entrants to secure the requisite digital and linear rights to provide consumers with a one-stop content offering,” he adds. “We therefore don’t expect Apple to attempt the costly and logistically-daunting task of standalone distribution.”

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