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Cisco buys NDS to open doors in video

By PETER WHITE

Published: 16 March, 2012

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When you hear rumors about some mergers, you intuitively know they are false. It doesn't mean that they won't happen, but you can see that they will not work, even if someone inside the buying organization thinks so. That was NOT the case when we heard this week about NDS being acquired by Cisco - it was one of those moments when you bang your head and say, "Of course."

It was certainly a very different experience from when we heard that Cisco and Motorola planned to sell their set top divisions - on both of those occasions, we shook our heads and said "Unlikely," and so far that has proved to be the case.

The NDS price has been negotiated based on what private equity group Permira needs from the business, but at $5 billion, it's a generous number for a group that has around $1 billion of revenues and a 10% net margin. NDS has had fairly solid growth, with only a backward step in the recession of 2009, and its latest figures show that less than 20% of its revenues come from ;low margin service integration.

We all repeat the reasoning that Cisco gives, but it doesn't really hang together, at least not clearly and not yet. Cisco has something it calls Videoscape, by which it means all the technologies which make video work on anything, from anywhere. Video makes up much of the internet, says Cisco and so it makes up most of the IP packets that Cisco wizzes around the internet. And Cisco wants to put a brand in front of its routers, head end, media transformation and video management and on the fly transcoding systems that it has built up within Videoscape.

That NDS brand is supposed to open the door to pay TV operators in the same way that Cisco has been ushered into all Telcos on the back of the IP revolution. Now it wants an intro to cable companies and satellite TV players as well, and of course cellular operators who see video carriage as more and more one of their biggest headaches.

But of course NDS doesn't have any cellular customers, and precious few cablecos - it specializes in the tough security requirements dictated by satellite DTH operations, where the signal has left the satellite, and on many occasions there is no reason to have an online element to the dialog, so frequent rapid authentications cannot be part of the security set up. Which means it just has to be tougher to break.

NDS puts most of this technology into smart cards and although it has featured many new breakthroughs in cloud based TV services, search and recommendation, and UI, it is still fundamentally a security business with 56% of its revenues coming from there, perhaps a few percentage points less than a year ago. Over the past year software solutions have gone up in revenues, systems integration has gone down, but security has stayed more or less the same.

For a longer version of our assessment of the takeover of NDS by Cisco, please go to www.rethinkresearch.biz/, where it can be read free for the next week in our Faultline service.

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