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ecommerce Economics

Rakuten vs SoftBank + Yahoo vs Amazon (Bloomberg and BusinessWeek interviews)

Rakuten vs Softbank

Yahoo reduces e-commerce fees to compete harder with Rakuten’s online mall

Bloomberg interview and BusinessWeek interview about Yahoo KK’s aggressive reduction of ecommerce fees, a move increasing competition with Amazon.com and Rakuten.

How do you see Yahoo KK’s latest move to reduce or eliminate merchant’s fees? Do you see this as an attack by SoftBank/Yahoo on Rakuten?

SoftBank and Rakuten are clearly two very different companies – they don’t compete on the same ground. SoftBank is a telecom company with a Government spectrum license – a quasi-monopoly on a certain wavelength spectrum. Rakuten has no such monopoly, but is an internet based ecommerce company.

How do you see the future of Rakuten now?

Rakuten is clearly squeezed between SoftBank/Yahoo on one side and Amazon.com on the other side.

Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, SoftBank/Yahoo-KK’s Masayoshi Son and Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani are clearly some of the most brilliant minds on this planet earth, so any battle between these three is phenomenal.

You ask about Hiroshi Mikitani/Rakuten – he clearly has his job cut out to compete with Masayoshi Son and Jeff Bezos – that’s not easy at all.

In particular, Amazon.com has a lot of strengths in areas, where Rakuten does not compete, e.g. AWS – Amazon Web Services, which is a very important cloud services company.

In terms of globalization, I also see challenges ahead for Rakuten. Even though Rakuten has recently decided to train staff in English conversation, its not a trivial job for an essentially Japanese company to globalize.

How do you see globalization of Rakuten and Softbank?

SoftBank clearly has taken a big step in acquiring Sprint in USA. SoftBank’s very big challenge is now to make Sprint a very big success and this will take some time.
Rakuten also has a huge challenge to globalize, and it will be interesting to see if Rakuten can become a global company

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Categories
M&A Mobile mobile music mobile payment

NTT Docomo acquisitions: Tower Records – No music, no life!

Docomo acquires music retail know-how and a laboratory for mobile payments at the point-of-sale

NTT Docomo acquisitions: 32.34% of Tower Records a major share of Japan’s second largest Credit Card issuer

Nikkei reports several NTT Docomo acquisitions: DoCoMo will use a total investment of around YEN 10 Billion (approx US$ 100 million) to acquire 32.24% of Tower Records Japan’s shares from Nikko Principal Investments Japan Ltd, and additional shares in a third party allotment taking it’s stake to around 40%. Tower Records Japan plans an IPO, and DoCoMo apparently intends to keep a 33.4% controlling stake even after the IPO.

Tower Records Japan was founded by the US-company Tower Records in August 1979 in a pioneering entry by Tower Records into the Japanese market. At that time, almost all foreign companies entering Japan formed a joint venture with a Japanese company or licensed their brand to a Japanese company. Tower Records instead acquired an unrelated Japanese company with the same name (“Tower Records”) and built it’s business in Japan successfully alone without a Japanese joint venture partner.

In October 2002, Tower Records Japan became independent of the US mother company through a Management Buy-out by Japanese management.

NTT Docomo acquisitions strategy

Repordedly, DoCoMo aims to implement many synergies including:

  • promotion of mobile FeliCa wallet phones for mobile payments
  • use of mobile FeliCa wallet phones for customer relationship management (CRM), reward points, and customer data collection for marketing purposes
  • Napster Japan: Since about 1/2 of official content sales of i-mode is from mobile music, and since Tower Records Japan is about to launch Napster-Japan in a joint venture with Napster, we expect DoCoMo to become involved in online music distribution through Napster Japan.

NTT Docomo acquisitions: The bigger picture

Acquisition of a controlling stake in Tower Records is the latest step in a string of investments by DoCoMo, to expand revenue into new areas independent of ever shrinking voice and data traffic related charges. Recent investments include:

  • Mitsui-Sumitomo Credit Cards (Japan’s No. 2 credit card issuer)
  • joint venture with Rakuten for mobile auctions

With more than 100 stores the Tower Records Japan investment will give DoCoMo an excellent experimentation ground to develop many new ways of using FeliCa wallet phones in a real-life retail environment.

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Categories
M&A media Mobile TV

Japan media landscape restructuring

Japan’s broadcasting is a US$ 40 billion/year industry

There have been many attempts over the years for Japan media landscape restructuring

by Gerhard Fasol

Japan’s broadcasting markets (commercial TV + NHK + CATV + satellite + AM & FM radio) have annual combined revenues on the order of US$ 40 billion. The main players in this market are five large commercial TV groups and the semi-public NHK.

Media Group TBS attracts uninvited merger proposals

One of these five TV and media groups – TBS – has received an uninvited merger proposal by it’s largest shareholder – the internet portal Rakuten – and in parallel also attracted the Murakami-Fund as an investor.

TBS media group under pressure? and why?

Earlier this year Japan’s Murakami Fund acquired about 7% of the TBS Media Group, and declared that TBS was undervalued and should sell non-core assets, such as real estate and other non-TV / non-media related properties.

Recently, Rakuten acquired about over 20% of TBS shares, making Rakuten the largest shareholder of TBS. Rakuten announced a business plan for a merged Rakuten-TBS Group integrating Rakuten’s internet businesses with TBS’ TV and media operations. Since Rakuten’s stock market valuation is about 35% higher than TBS’ valuation (as of October 24, 2005), Rakuten’s management is expected to dominate a potentially merged group.

TBS’ management is not delighted with the prospect of losing control in this way. In response, three things happened:

  1. TBS management announced cooperations with “stable shareholders” Dentsu, Mitsui Bussan, and Bic-Camera, and non-shareholder Amazon.co.jp, and other Japanese corporations.
  2. The Murakami Fund proposed a management buy-out, which would lead to a delisting of TBS by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, taking TBS private. This possibility was voted down by TBS management.
  3. Livedoor offered support as a (very unlikely) white knight. Given Livedoor’s record of a failed hostile take-over attempt of the Fuji-Sankei media group earlier this year (for details see our report on Japan’s Media industry), it seems to be more than unlikely for TBS to go for Livedoor as a white knight – however no one knows for sure.

At this time the acquisition battle for the TBS Group is in full swing and the final outcome is difficult to estimate. In parallel to the take-over battle, a public discusson by Japan’s industry leaders is examining the desirability of hostile take-overs in Japan.

Japan media analysis report:

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