Five years ago, at SXSW, I asked Eddy Cue, the seemingly perennially buoyant Apple services S.V.P. and Tim Cook sidekick, whether his company would ever acquire Netflix or The Walt Disney Company. It’s the kind of question that Cook and Cue receive not infrequently from reporters and analysts and the occasional shareholder. When you oversee the entertainment assets for a ~$3 trillion tech giant, especially one with big ambitions in the streaming space, it is often assumed that you’ll eventually just buy your way into market dominance.
Similar assumptions have been made about Amazon (which did buy MGM, after all) and Microsoft (which bought Activision) and Alphabet (whose most valuable acquisition was surely YouTube, which now has the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket). In this turbulent and transformative era of media consolidation, Mega-FAANGS are seen, often inexplicably, as plausible buyers for every decent (or halfway decent) entertainment asset that may or may not be for sale, Biden antitrust enforcement paratroopers be damned.
Of course, tech firms are far more strategic than that, obviously, and none more so than Apple, which prides itself on the Jobsian koan that “innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” And, indeed, despite its unparalleled war chest, Apple has rarely gone outside Cupertino to buy what it would rather create in-house. “Generally, in the history of Apple, we haven’t made huge acquisitions,” Cue told me on stage at SXSW, before citing one of Jobs’ too-often-used Wayne Gretzky quotes: “You have to skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is.” (Cue is a big sports guy.) A thorough review of the Apple executive’s oeuvre reveals that this is part of the stump speech: “We say no to almost everything,” Cue told CNBC earlier this year, before once again citing Gretzky. “When you get as large as we are, it’s easy to think you can do anything or everything, and it’s just not true.”