SanDisk amps up its music player offerings

With its $6.5m tuck-in acquisition of MusicGremlin last week, SanDisk is bulking up its digital music player business. MusicGremlin, with just eight employees and about $5m in revenue, will obviously not have a material effect on SanDisk’s business. Nonetheless, the importance is not so much the size or scope of the company, but more the technology it has developed during its four years in operation. Specifically, MusicGremlin gives SanDisk the ability to effectively stream music wirelessly to its products. We have learned that SanDisk was very eager to acquire the startup, with the large company initiating talks and sealing a deal within a few weeks. Given SanDisk’s recent effort to build its product offerings through strategic acquisitions, what other acquisitions might the company be considering?

From our perspective, SanDisk needs to do some shopping. It currently ranks a distant second place to Apple in the digital music player market, but also faces stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Panasonic. Perhaps the biggest hole in SanDisk’s offerings is the lack of an in-house music and video content provider, like Apple has with its iTunes and Microsoft has with its Zune Marketplace. To date, SanDisk has relied exclusively on partnerships, but learned the downside of that strategy the hard way in February, when Yahoo suddenly shuttered its Music Unlimited service. The disappearance of the service, which was the very foundation of SanDisk’s Sansa Connect player, left users understandably sour.

As to where SanDisk might look for a music service, two names come to mind: Rhapsody (owned by RealNetworks) and Napster. Despite taking in about $150m and $130m last year, respectively, both are consistently running at a loss. Clearly they could be had for a steal. More importantly, they are both proven and established music services with mobile offerings that would make integrating MusicGremlin’s technology an easy task. Using Napster as a comparable, we believe either company can be had for just under $100m, representing a 40% premium over Napster’s current price on Nasdaq. With $1.22bn in cash and a market cap of $5.2bn, SanDisk could certainly afford a few deals to shore up its defenses for the inevitable battle of the titans.