The book retail chain’s shares are up 8.1% in mid-afternoon trading, making it one of the day’s biggest gainers in the media pack. Barron’s appears to be largely responsible for the move after it seized this weekend on reports that Microsoft might be willing to pay $1B for Barnes & Noble‘s NOOK tablet and e-reader platform. “It’s possible Microsoft may bid for Nook or the whole company, and there could also be interest from Liberty [Media]” which already owns 17% of Barnes & Noble, Barron’s says. Deals could send shares up as much as 50% the magazine estimates. The Microsoft rumor took off two weeks ago after Techcrunch cited “internal documents” that confirmed an offer. That sent shares to a 52-week high of $23.71. But enthusiasm fizzled last week when website Insider Monkey reported that a “highly placed source inside Microsoft” said an acquisition “is not happening in the foreseeable future.” That hasn’t put speculation about a big deal to rest. Founder Leonard Riggio has said that he might make an offer for the retail stores, although he hasn’t made it yet. Meanwhile Techcrunch yesterday cited “a source close to the matter” who says that Barnes & Noble is preparing to add a web browser, email, and apps to the Nook Simple Touch e-readers — potentially a big boost in functionality for a $79 device. The company recently added Google Play apps and services to its NOOK tablets.
It’s natural to wonder whether Liberty Media Chairman John Malone’s new acquisition of 27.3% of Charter Communications is merely Step One in a plan to make him a U.S. cable titan — the role he played until 1999 when he sold Tele-Communications Inc to AT&T. And while Liberty CEO Greg Maffei doesn’t predict that, he also didn’t rule it out today in a quarterly earnings call with analysts. He says that cable “could be in for a round of consolidation” at a time when it’s so inexpensive to borrow money and large companies covet opportunities to cut costs — for example by negotiating lower prices from programmers. He cryptically adds that even though Charter can do just fine as a stand-alone entity, “we’ll see” whether it ends up being “a consolidator or condolidatee.” Liberty’s stock purchase agreement gives it the right over time to raise its stake to 40%. Will it do so? “We’ll see what time holds,” Maffei says.
NBC Universal and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will supply standard definition and HD movies and TV shows to the NOOK Video download and rental service — just as Barnes & Noble prepares this week to ship its NOOK HD and NOOK HD+ tablets and offer them in its stores. The bookstore retailer’s release skimps on details about the agreements, including how much content the studios will provide, how much titles might cost, and what other devices might be able to handle Nook Video streams and downloads. But it says that titles include Snow White And The Huntsman, Battleship, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Along with its previous deals with HBO, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, STARZ, Viacom, Warner Bros, and Disney, Barnes & Noble says it will offer “thousands of movies and TV shows for all ages and interests.” The new agreements, and tablets, also are designed to make it easy for NOOK owners to stream videos from their UltraViolet accounts.
That’s hard to say: Even Barnes & Noble can’t articulate why consumers might favor its planned digital video purchase and rental service over its more established rivals. There’s no word on how much movies and TV shows will cost. It’ll be “incredibly competitive,” says B&N General Manager of Emerging Digital Content Jonathan Shar. We don’t know how many movies and TV shows B&N will offer, or how recent most titles will be. We don’t even know whether it will work with all flavors of Apple and Android powered devices. “As one of the world’s largest retailers of physical video discs and digital copyrighted content, our new NOOK Video service will give our customers another way to be entertained with a vast and growing digital video collection, as part of our expansive NOOK Store,” CEO William Lynch says.