Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Cisco Deal for Israel’s NDS: It’s All About Video Anywhere

Cisco Systems’ $5 billion cash-and-debt deal to acquire the Israeli software firm NDS is a big one. But it has some strategic merit. I just got off the phone with Cisco’s Marthin De Beer, senior vice president for video and collaboration, and Chris Dedicoat, president of its Europe, Middle East and Africa operations, and they walked me through Cisco’s thinking for this deal.

In broad brushstrokes, one key aspect of the deal addresses a problem with Cisco’s set-top box business: Its lower profit margins. Adding high-value software to the mix will boost that unit’s overall profitability, De Beer told me. NDS, which has been private since 2009, is on a run rate to about $1 billion in sales this year. “And it’s a very profitable revenue stream,” he said.

But there’s also some pretty interesting tech in play. NDS specializes in software that creates a unified entertainment experience across several devices. You can watch your shows on the TV, as always, but if you want to switch to your PC or tablet, you can do it with a user-interface environment that’s entirely consistent and customized according to the service provider’s branding and needs. NDS has a software architecture called Snowflake that’s supposedly pretty good and is the basis of the Zon TV service that is being plugged in the ad that can be seen below, which I think is for Portuguese TV.

But there’s another Snowflake interface video that’s worth seeing first. Check out the demo reel (also below) of the user interface for SFR’s Neufbox Evolution, which I think is a streaming Internet media box.

The point, De Beer said, is to get more closely engaged with the service providers, and by those he means the cable, satellite and other TV and entertainment outfits around the world, and offer them white-label software they can build and brand as they see fit, to deliver a consistent experience across any device. “They’ll be able to constantly update and upgrade their experiences,” he said.

Another point: NDS is strong in India and China with the satellite TV outfits, whereas Cisco is strong in North America with the cable companies. “They’re strong where we’re weak, and vice versa,” he told me.

There are a few critical points. ISI analyst Brian Marshall observed that Cisco is using up about 20 percent of its offshore cash balance. Also NDS’s business is pretty highly concentrated. About 70 percent of its revenue comes from 10 customers, and a little less than half comes from the top three: DTV, BSkyB and Sky Italia.

While Marshall sees the opportunity in comprehensive digital media, he thinks the price Cisco is paying is “rich for a company growing sales at less than 10 percent year on year.” And with revenue per employee at $200,000 at NDS — much lower than Cisco’s $750,000 per employee — Marshall wonders how the deal will be accretive to Cisco right away. “We struggle identifying sources of accretion in year one other than headcount reduction.”

NDS STUDIO DESIGN & SFR AWARDED from NDS Design on Vimeo.

ZON online from NDS Design on Vimeo.


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