With the dust finally beginning to settle on a four-way M&A collision involving Disney, Comcast-NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox and UK satellite TV company Sky, conventional wisdom has emerged that Disney will seek to buy out the remaining shares of joint venture streaming service Hulu.
However, TV[R]EV analyst Alan Work has put forth a rather interesting counter-intuitive argument—it is Comcast which will seek to fully own Hulu.
Comcast, Wolk wrote in an article posted in Forbes, "desperately" needs an OTT app, given the head start that both CBS and Disney have on them in that department. Hulu could be that app.”
And the analyst wonders where Hulu might fit into Disney's overall app strategy.
For its part, Disney chief executive Bob Iger used his company's third-quarter earnings call in August to describe a multi-app strategy in which Hulu fits in as a "giant aggregated play" along with the ESPN-based sports app, as well as a family-oriented Disney app set to launch next year.
"Obviously, after the deal closes for 21st Century Fox, we'll own 60% of Hulu. So that will fit in very significantly to our app strategy," Iger said.
Earlier comments by Iger, however, apparently have confused Wolk another other analysts regarding Disney's app strategy and where Hulu might fit in. For example, in December of last year, Iger said, “We believe that it’s possible that a consumer may want to basically be choosy in terms of what product they want. Some may want pure family, some may want pure sports, some may want adult."
"That statement confused a lot of us, as it's unclear what the differentiator between Hulu and the adult Disney app will be," Wolk said.
While Wolk may just be misreading Disney's positioning, his argument does have economic underpinning.
Having paid $71.3 billion for the bulk of 21st Century Fox, Disney seems to be focused on reducing some of its debt load--a factor that runs against the grain of acquiring the 40% of Hulu it doesn't currently own.
And beyond the cost of acquiring that stake, total ownership wouldn’t be inexpensive, either. Comcast revealed over the summer that its second-quarter losses alone for its 30% of the Hulu platform totaled $107 million.
Comcast’s NBCU division would appear to have plenty of content to support the platform.
“NBCU has a lot of content because NBCU owns a lot of networks,” Wolk wrote. “SyFy, Oxygen, Bravo, Telemundo, USA Network and Cloo are all NBCU channels, along with CNBC, MSNBC, NBC and NBC Sports. Then there's Universal Kids (formerly known as Sprout) and, of course, Universal Pictures, which also includes DreamWorks.”
Earlier in the week, after Comcast won out in its bidding war against Fox for the controlling stake of Sky, CNBC reported that Comcast is interested in selling its Hulu interest to Disney, with Comcast unwilling to own the platform with Disney in control.
Notably, Comcast had been forced to act as a silent partner on Hulu as a regulatory condition tied to its 2011 purchase of NBCU. With that condition recently sunsetted, Comcast appointed three executives to Hulu’s board in September—Universal Filmed Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell, advertising and client partnerships chair Linda Yaccarino and content distribution chairman Matt Bond.
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