Comcast is reportedly in talks to sell its 30% ownership stake in Hulu to the Walt Disney Company, a deal which would make Disney the 100% owner of the SVOD service.
The report comes from Comcast’s own cable news network, CNBC, citing unnamed sources. Last week, AT&T’s WarnerMedia division sold back its 10% stake to Hulu, leaving Comcast’s NBCUniversal division as the only remaining stakeholder in the joint venture beyond majority shareholder Disney.
Speaking to reporters during Comcast’s first quarter earnings call Thursday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts addressed the report.
“On Hulu the relationship with NBC, that is very much in everybody's interest to maintain,” Roberts said. “And where 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 has endured a frustrating decade as a Hulu stakeholder, having been until recently rendered a silent owner as a regulatory condition of its 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal. Meanwhile, with AT&T generating $1.43 billion selling a portion a third the size, Comcast could certainly use the cash to pay down debt accrued in last year’s purchase of Sky.
Of course, nobody wants to make a longterm strategic mistake in the name of generating a little cash.
“If you watch CNBC, you would assume that streaming is all of the entrants are in and it's a big battle between two or three of them,” said NBCU CEO Steve Burke, speaking alongside Roberts. “We actually think it is very, very early innings and in some ways reminiscent of cable in the 1970s or 1980s. And we think there will be a lot of entrants and a lot of companies will try to enter with their own unique strengths leveraging their own unique assets. And so you're starting to see that.”
Burke, however, seemed to indicate that Comcast and NBCU’s longterm strategic interests rest more with the upcoming NBC Now streaming service than with Hulu.
“In our case, NBC is the number one broadcast channel,” Burke said. “We have a huge portfolio of cable channels. And if you add up all of our rating points, more people watch our channels than any other media companies’ channels. And then not surprisingly, we're the number one provider of television advertising in the country. So we think those are strengths. We also think the fact that Comcast Cable and Sky have over 50 million direct relationships. Building direct relationships with customers is a real strength. So our approach, which we think is very interesting and different is to take thousands of hours of great programming and make it free to the vast majority of people who live in the United States or the UK eventually. And we think that's a way to get real scale quickly. And we think that's a way to achieve profitability more quickly than we would otherwise.”
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