What Apple, Netflix and HBO Will Do in 2014

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- According to my research, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers recorded a .348 batting average in 2013. Cabrera made $21 million in 2013.

That makes me underpaid.

Looking back on my 2013 predictions (the serious ones), you can reasonably conclude that I hit .400. Strange. Where were you when we started this game? But I don't make anything near $21 million a year. In fact, the members of Matchbox 20 probably earn more than I do.

Consider my December 10, 2012, article, CEOs Who Will Get Fired in 2013.

I put Zynga's (ZNGA) Mark Pincus, Netflix's (NFLX) Reed Hastings, Best Buy's (BBY) Hubert Joly, Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Meg Whitman and Microsoft's (MSFT) Steve Ballmer on the list.

I grouped Pincus and Hastings together for a reason.

I thought Zynga and Netflix would do well to follow a Pandora (P)-like strategy where the original brains behind the operation doesn't serve as CEO. Because, sometimes, these guys just aren't cut out to lead in that role.

Ironically, of the three men, Pandora's Tim Westergren, who serves as co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, would be the best CEO. But Pandora's still smart to have never really considered that as far as I know.

Looking back, I nailed the Pincus thing. In fact, I have an inkling that my urging (I pushed for the move all year) might have, even if mildly, influenced the process.

On Hastings -- it's still the right move, but he'll never let it happen. Within the Netflix context (I don't know the man personally), Hastings doesn't have a humble bone in his body. He would never step down. And, given NFLX's run this year, there's zero buzz that he should. Quite the opposite.

But stock runs don't always reflect the health of the underlying company. So, here's a bonus prediction before we even get to what Apple (AAPL) will do in 2014:

  • When NFLX implodes in 2014 on slowing subscriber growth, rising costs and the attendant realization that its original programming isn't all that, Reed will make Chief Content Officer Ted "Don't knock the chip off my shoulder" Sarandos the fall guy, shifting strategy to whatever he can cook up in his I believe my own hype brain.

How about this for a bonus-bonus prediction?

  • Mark my words. Time Warner's (TWX) Home Box Office has some incredible programming lined up -- some announced, some my sources tell me I can't talk about -- that will blow up much of the Netflix love Hastings managed to manufacture over the last couple of years. One move in particular -- which involves a major deal a major director will do with HBO -- will reinforce HBO's dominance as it helps bring Netflix back down to Earth.

And here's another bonus before Apple!

  • Netflix will cut a deal with one or more small-size cable companies to become part of their set-top boxes. I would still be shocked if any of the majors get involved in such arrangements, though Netflix could -- and probably should -- turn up on something like Comcast's (CMCSA) XFINITY app.

Leading into Apple, in another 2013 prediction article, I said:

Intel (INTC) breaches $15. Facebook (FB) runs past $50.

Dog me on the INTC call all you want, but the company remains in serious trouble, despite it's best efforts to remain relevant. But, that aside, if you lost money on a pair trade that shorted INTC and went long FB in 2013, you should stick to passive 401k investing.

The chart -- and the way you would have managed the respective positions -- says it all.

INTC ChartINTC data by YCharts

Anyhow, the odd Intel-Facebook tango segues nicely.

Intel is hitched to names such as BBY, HPQ and MSFT. And that's a horrible thing.

Given the likelihood that Microsoft will tap a retread to replace Steve Ballmer (TheStreet's tech editor, Chris Ciaccia, also nailed the Ballmer prediction), there's no return to glory happening there. And I'm still convinced we'll see the true colors at Best Buy  (BBY) and HP  (HPQ) shine through in 2014.

A general apathy and lack of anything even resembling zest, vision or critical self-reflection on BBY's board might spare Joly his job. Meantime, Meg will spin her way to job security, brilliantly buying herself time by implementing the never-ending "five-year plan" to "turnaround" Hewlett-Packard.

Speaking of CEOs keeping or losing gigs ...

2014 will make or break Tim Cook at Apple.

If Cook listens to people who say spend Apple's cash to do a bigger buyback or use it to buy Twitter (TWTR), we're screwed. That'll be a sure sign Cook doesn't know the way forward.

But I don't think that will happen.

In time for the holidays, 2014-style, I expect Apple to unveil Apple TV, an HDTV blended with a set-top box.

  • There will be no expensive content deals involved with this thing. Intel, which failed on its living room efforts, proved that, no matter who you are, you have zero leverage with the big programmers.
  • Apple's new TV will be all about user experience. It will not only refine and reinvent how we find and consume content, it will completely reshape what's possible in the living room (and other rooms, for that matter).
  • Apple will not do a smartwatch. That's a fad, like Google (GOOG) Glass, that will never catch on. The hires Apple made that the media associated with a forthcoming smartwatch probably have more to do with Apple TV than anything else. This TV will touch multiple parts of your life, not just television viewing.

If Apple TV achieves anything close to the level of success iPod, iPhone and iPad achieved in their first year on the market (controlling for the anticipated price differences), Tim Cook plays out his tenure as Apple CEO in relative comfort. If not, the media will jump all over him. And he'll likely get fired in early 2015.

But I don't think that'll happen. I love Apple's pace right now. And I marvel at how much better iPad Air is than its predecessor.

Plus, the people are salivating for a brand new Apple product. And the people rule. Tim Cook is creating all sorts of pent up demand right now. When he pulls the cork, it's going to gush, likely overshadowing anything Microsoft, HP or anybody else in the "other" category thinks they have going for them.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in New York City

Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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