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May 14, 2019

Disney takes full control of Hulu as war on Netflix heats up

Disney Makes Deal With Comcast for Control of Hulu

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Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N) will take full control of Hulu in a deal with co-owner Comcast Corp. that envisions the value of the streaming service soaring to more than US$27 billion in five years.

The accord announced Tuesday represents a big bet by Disney on continued rapid growth for Hulu, home of original hits such as “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Under the terms, Comcast is guaranteed a US$5.8 billion windfall by early 2024, when the cable giant can sell its stake to Disney.

Hulu will be a key weapon in Disney’s growing online fight with Netflix Inc., and the deal gives the service access to programming from Comcast’s NBCUniversal division for at least three more years. Disney expects Hulu to have as many as 60 million subscribers by fiscal 2024, up from 25 million last year, and is counting on it to complement the new Disney+ streaming service launching in November.

“We are now able to completely integrate Hulu into our direct-to-consumer business,” Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said in a statement.

Investors in both companies seemed pleased. Disney shares rose as much as 2.1 per cent, and Comcast gained as much as 2.3 per cent.
The transaction, leaving Hulu run by just one media company for the first time, marks the end of one of the most complicated ownership sagas in entertainment.

NBC and Fox founded Hulu more than a decade ago as a way for TV viewers to watch last night’s TV online. Disney acquired a stake later, and the three media giants argued over the direction of Hulu as Netflix lapped it in size. Netflix now has a market capitalization of US$152 billion, 10 times Hulu’s most recent valuation.

Majority Owner

Disney acquired majority ownership of Hulu this year by buying Fox’s stake as part of its US$71 billion purchase of Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire. Just a month ago, Hulu was valued at US$15 billion, when Disney engineered the purchase of AT&T Inc.’s 9.5 per cent stake.

Disney will split its TV shows and movies between two entertainment streaming services, Disney+ and Hulu. Disney+ will offer programming from Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars. Shows from FX, which has aired “Sons of Anarchy” and “American Horror Story,” will be on Hulu, said FX CEO John Landgraf. Content from NatGeo will be on both services.

“I don’t see FX in Disney+ at all,” Landgraf said at a press briefing featuring presentations from the heads of most of Disney’s TV networks. Landgraf said he used to wish FX was its own stand-alone premium service. But, due to industry consolidation, it now makes sense as a part of Hulu online.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Is Saying

“The move enables an international launch for the service. Disney expects Hulu will reach 40-60 million domestic subscribers in five years, suggesting 150 million global customers, based on a 33 per cent domestic split.”
- Geetha Ranganathan, media analyst

Disney and Comcast will enter a “put/call” agreement regarding NBC’s 33 per cent ownership interest in Hulu, promising the cable giant a minimum of US$5.8 billion even if its stake dwindles over the next five years. Disney agreed to limit future equity infusions in Hulu to US$1.5 billion a year and said any needs beyond that would be funded by debt.

As early as January 2024, Comcast can require Disney to buy its interest in Hulu, and Disney can require NBCUniversal to sell that interest to Disney for its fair market value at that time.

As part of its programming lineup, Hulu offers shows that currently air on NBC, such as “This is Us” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” shortly after they appear on TV. It also offers reruns of older shows from NBCUniversal’s library.

The deal is structured to further NBC’s streaming ambitions as well.

As part of the accord, NBC negotiated the rights to show almost everything it now licenses exclusively to Hulu on its own upcoming streaming service, which debuts next year, meaning the services will share those programs. The only exceptions are three original series that NBCUniversal made for Hulu -- “The Act,” “The Past” and “Difficult People.” They’ll stay solely on Hulu.