This year, Disney has managed to increase its ownership share of Hulu from 30% to over 66%, following the purchase of 21st Century Fox and AT&T selling its shares back to Hulu. Which leaves Comcast as the other party involved in the streaming platform, with just over a 33% share.
After Comcast’s last financial results were released, CEO Brian Roberts told CNBC’s “Squawk Box”:
“On Hulu, the relationship with NBC, it’s very much in everybody’s interest to maintain. And we have no new news today on it, other than it’s really valuable. And we’re really glad we own a large piece of it.”
Comcast set to launch its own streaming service next year and with Disney ramping up its direct to consumer program, with three different platforms, Disney+ for the family friendly content, ESPN+ for the sports and Hulu being their general entertainment portion.
So Disney want full control of Hulu, since it could better position its own content from ABC, FX, Freeform and 20th Century Fox to fill the streaming service with content. They also plan on taking Hulu international.
Only recently, NBC CEO Steve Burke said:
“Fifty years from now will we be in Hulu? No, I don’t think we will. But I don’t think we’ll sell in five minutes.”
And while Comcast isn’t openly saying they are looking to sell their shares in Hulu, their own news outlet, CNBC has reported that Disney and Comcast are holding talks about working out a deal for Comcast’s 30% stake, according to people familiar with the matter.
There are many pros and cons for Comcast doing a deal now or leaving it for later. And it’s still unclear if a deal will go ahead.
Comcast could be looking to get as much money out of Disney as possible, which already pushed Disney into spending more money on 21st Century Fox then it originally wanted to. Which led to a auction between the two companies over the ownership of Sky, which Comcast won.
So one of the pros of selling would be that Comcast could use that money from Hulu to offset its debts.
However if Hulu continues to become more popular with new subscribers, Comcast could hold out for a better deal or to gain some assets from Disney. And with Hulu losing over a billion each year and it won’t make a profit for another 5 years, Comcast might not want to keep spending money on Hulu.
And while Comcast doesn’t have majority control over Hulu, it does hold so-called negative controls on Hulu. Which give Comcast certain veto power over different corporate actions associated with the company. These veto’s could cause problematic to Disney.
One of the biggest reasons Hulu hasn’t been able to obtain the same growth as Netflix was that it was owned by four huge traditional media companies, who had different views on how consumers should get their content. And Hulu was made by the companies to protect their existing businesses from companies like Netflix.
While having access to a huge amount of content from Fox, Disney, NBC, Universal, Warner Brothers and more, should have given Hulu a bigger platformm, it was never able to, since it had too many cooks in the kitchen.
With Disney set to control Hulu, it then has one company directing it and they’ve been very open about how they view Hulu as a major part of the company along with ESPN+ and Disney+.
It’s not so much a question of if Comcast sells its shares in Hulu to Disney, more of a question of when.