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If Apple decided to buy Netflix it could be key to its future, but CEO Reed Hastings is unlikely to sell up easily. Reuters

"We want Apple TV to be the one place to access all of your television. A unified TV experience. That's one place to access all of your TV shows and movies. One place to discover great new content to watch. So today we're announcing a new app and we simply call it TV."

This is how Apple CEO Tim Cook last week introduced the company's new app for its Apple TV set-top box. The app is designed to collect content from all your disparate TV services in one central hub. The problem with this statement is, that for tens of millions of people, it is simply untrue.

Anyone who has a Netflix subscription (and there are more than 86 million of you spread across almost every country in the world), or for that matter an Amazon Prime Video subscription, won't have access to that content through Apple's TV app — and that's a big problem.

Apple just can't seem to get it together with video in the same way it came to dominate music with iTunes and software with the App Store. Thankfully we seem to be over the days when everyone was waiting for an Apple television set to be made, but for Apple there remains a major gap in its services when it comes to TV and film.

Apple is looking to plug this gap itself to some extent by financing its own original content (about apps of course) but this is a short-term solution. Trying to build a business comparable to Netflix or HBO or Amazon is now futile. Apple has missed the boat.

There is another option – but it won't be cheap

Apple could buy Netflix. However, for that to happen Apple would likely have to pay a premium of around 20% according to analyst Ben Thompson. Given that Netflix is currently valued at $51.35n (£41.2bn) Apple is looking at a layout of close to $65bn.

Now that's a lot of money, but for a company of Apple's size the cost would not be a deciding factor in whether or not it buys the company. The only thing Apple needs to decide is: Would Netflix be a good fit for the company and help replace falling iPhone revenue?

"Apple needs a growth engine to replace the iPhone, if not in reality then at least in potential," Thompson said in a blog post advocating for Apple buying Netflix.

Netflix is hugely popular and generates a lot of revenue, but it is also burning through a huge amount of cash in order to remain ahead of competitors like Amazon and HBO. Last month the company announced that it would be spending $6bn on content in 2017, a figure only beaten by ESPN's planned $7.3bn spending.

For Cook and Apple, adding that huge debt to your business every year (and the amount is only going to increase in the future) would not be an attractive proposition, but put simply if Apple wants a stake in the video game, that is the price it has to pay.

To buy or not to buy?

The benefits for Apple however could outweigh the negatives significantly. In a world where hardware differentiation is becoming less and less of a factor, keeping customers loyal to your brand will be all about providing services to augment your offering.

Amazon is doing just that with Amazon Prime, constantly adding extra benefits for subscribers as part of the yearly subscription, including its video streaming service.

By offering Netflix free to all customers, Apple would be adding a huge benefit which would keep those customers loyal to the brand and ensure that the next phone they buy would be an iPhone.

This is something which analysts at Bernstein outlined last month. "Apple has a business model problem. Over time, smartphone penetration will invariably reach saturation, Apple will no longer be able to gain share, and the iPhone business will essentially become a replacement market."

The solution? "We believe that Apple should look to sell its hardware offerings as a subscription service rather than as transactional product sales, by offering a compelling and attractively priced services bundle (think "Apple Prime") along with any hardware that is purchased on a subscription plan," the analysts said.

According to calculations by analysts at ValuePenguin, if Netflix were to become completely free to Apple users, Apple will be increasing economic value per customer by almost 10%.

The analysts also suggest the boost for Apple could see the deal pay for itself in no time at all by boosting its smartphone market share. "Even if Apple were to tilt the market to its favour by 3–5%, it could be increasing its revenue from iPhones by about 40%, which could pay for the acquisition in a matter of a few years, even if Apple were to pay a meaningful premium."

Straying from the playbook

One problem is that Apple simply doesn't make acquisition like this. Steve Jobs never wanted to simply buy in a solution, he wanted to make Apple's own version. The problem with this view is that Apple has seriously missed the boat with video and Cook may need to stray from the Jobs playbook in order to get Apple back in the game.

A bigger problem may be the simple fact that Netflix may not want to sell. With a valuation of $51bn, Netflix is a huge company in its own right. It may be burning through a lot of money but it is continuing to beat expectations in terms of subscriber growth.

Apple has the wherewithal to at least get Netflix interested with a huge offer, but will likely need to offer more than just bundles of cash to convince Reed Hastings to sell the company he has built from scratch.