Comcast and its NBCUniversal unit are "finalizing" an agreement with Disney that will "drastically change" how the former programs joint subscription streaming venture Hulu, shifting more movies and shows to NBCU's Peacock, according to the Wall Street Journal.
NBCU reportedly has until Friday to reveal its programming plans to Disney for their Hulu partnership.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during his company's Q4 earnings call on Jan. 28 that Peacock has reached 24.5 million active users, combined across subscription and free ad-supported tiers. Pledging to up Peacock's annual content budget to $3 billion in 2022, and even more beyond that, Roberts said NBCU's streaming service has accomplished the modest goals it has, despite "the majority of our best content" premiering on other streaming services, including Hulu.
Asked by an equity analyst to elaborate on that, Roberts kicked the query over to NBCU CEO Jeff Shell, who remarked, "So obviously, much of our strong NBC content, as Brian mentioned, premieres on Hulu. And over time, we'd like to bring that back to Peacock. But any discussions that we're having with Hulu, or will have with Hulu we're really not going to comment on. So there's nothing really to report at this time."
According to the WSJ, that time is nearly at hand. Starting this fall, the report said, popular NBC shows including The Voice, Saturday Night Live and American Auto will stream on Peacock after they air on broadcast and not Hulu.
Comcast, through NBCU, founded Hulu in 2007, along with Disney and Fox as a JV whereby each programmed the platform with shows that had already run on their respective broadcast networks. With Disney's purchase of key Fox assets in 2019, and NBCU's launch of Peacock in 2020, NBCU's content agenda has shifted.
Comcast now owns one-third of Hulu, with controlling shareholder Disney having consolidated the rest of the ownership. The two companies have an agreement that NBCU can sell its 30% share starting in 2024, with the price valuing Hulu at a minimum of $27 billion.
Disney revealed earlier this week that Hulu added 1.5 million users in the fourth quarter, upping its base to 45.3 million customers. The quarter marked a re-acceleration of growth for Hulu, which expanded by only 1 million customers in Q3, its slowest growth quarter in two years.
NBCU, which by most equity analyst accounts, will be looking to offload its Hulu share at some point in the next 24 months, now faces the tricky balancing act of sustaining -- or even growing -- Hulu's value, while trying desperately to gain a foothold for its struggling Peacock startup. ■
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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!