Despite some back-and-forth investor-conference jousting between Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his Disney counterpart Bob Chapek over who will eventually own JV streaming venture Hulu outright, it appears that Disney, as expected, will end up as the 100% shareholder once the smoke clears.
Speaking to CNBC Tuesday (opens in new tab), Jeff Shell, CEO of Comcast's NBCUniversal media division, indicated that NBCU will likely proceed with a previously outlined agreement to sell its 33% stake in Hulu to Disney by 2024.
"The mechanism is there's a buy-sell at the end of next year, and our anticipation is going to be that Disney is going to pay us a lot of money," Shell said, before describing Hulu as a "great asset."
As pieces of this high-stakes negotiation — set to drag on through 2023 — continue to leak into the press, former executives privately lament what has become of their "fun" startup since Disney took majority control of Hulu in 2019 and began integrating it as a subordinate to Disney Plus within the broader context of the conglomerate's global distribution strategy.
There's also confusion about Hulu's future advertising proposition, given that Disney Plus will soon provide an ad-supported tier, too, and has also edged out into, er, edgier content territory with shows like the off-ABC sitcom Black-ish. Within Disney's streaming portfolio, Hulu is supposed to be the destination for more more-mature general entertainment fare.
The paywalled Business Insider (opens in new tab) talked to a few Hulu execs and an "insider," and got some interesting anonymous quotes:
> One former Hulu executive lamented a very possible, or even likely, future in which Hulu is folded into Disney Plus, much the way Marvel and Pixar properties are today.
“The benefit of folding into Disney Plus? Practically, I fully understand,” the ex-Hulu exec told Business Insider. “Emotionally, it will feel like a big loss in the end of something that was very different from Disney. It will feel like a loss for probably all the people who worked on it. [But] business is business.”
> Longtime Hulu employees, who refer to themselves as “Hulugans,” bemoan a tech-startup-like company culture that they say has dwindled away since Disney took full control in 2019. The steady drumbeat of departures has also taken a toll on their morale, according to Business Insider.
“It became very hard to do my job when the priorities of the organization no longer supported the goals of my job,” the former executive told the pub. “Most people I know have left. It got too difficult to send goodbye emails or have goodbye parties. Every week someone was leaving.”
> Veteran and former Hulu employees also bemoan the loss of a more egalitarian structure amid Disney's hierarchical architecture.
”At Hulu, every role was bonus-eligible. Disney did not make up for it. For some people that meant a 10-20% pay cut,” one source was quoted, “insider” to Insider.
> Another former executive said the recent inclusion onto the Disney Plus menu of ABC sitcom Black-ish — which ventured into topics like race and economic class — raised eyebrows over blurred brand identity.
“That was a clear departure from Disney being family-focused and Hulu being general entertainment,” a “second former executive” told BI. ▪️
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!
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