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After Finishing Sale of Hulu to Disney in 2024, Will Comcast Look to Take Over Warner Bros. Discovery Next?

David Satin

The knot of distribution rights and which streaming services hold them grows a little tighter every day, as more services dot the landscape. Comcast, for example, still holds a 33% stake in Hulu after Disney’s acquisition of Fox in 2019. Despite signs that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is reluctant to sell that stake, the rights agreement says that Disney will have the ability to purchase the streamer outright in 2024. Disney is expected to go ahead with the acquisition and would like to do so sooner rather than later, according to its CEO Bob Chapek.

If Roberts does have to give up the rest of Hulu, he’ll still have NBCUniversal’s streaming platform Peacock in his streaming portfolio. But that might not be enough to satisfy the CEO. A new report from The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Comcast could be interested in purchasing the recently unified Warner Bros. Discovery. Although the regulatory period for the Discovery acquisition of WarnerMedia would keep any potential deals from even being discussed until April 2024, that would likely not deter Comcast in its pursuit.

The issues at WBD have been well publicized over the last month and a half. The company has been axing original content, shelving finished products, firing employees, and reconfiguring entire cable channels in order to find $3 billion in savings to offset a debt of more than $50 million. The moves have led to many in the industry wondering if CEO David Zaslav was damaging the company's premium brand.

After throwing the nearly-complete “Batgirl” film in the trash as a tax write-off, Zaslav declared that the company was doing a “reset” on its DC properties, which would henceforward all be sent to theaters and under the direction of a yet-to-be-identified boss similar to what Kevin Feige does for Disney and Marvel.

Given all of the challenges faced by WBD, the entertainment industry sees another deal for the company as simply a matter of time, according to THR. Last July, Zaslav and Roberts met at the Allen and Co. Sun Valley Conference, and The Streamable speculated that an acquisition of NBCU by WBD might be in the offing. Now, it appears that the roles may have reversed.

With Peacock still failing to find its footing in the competitive streaming landscape, despite the company's insistence that it is a success, the potential of the Universal and Warner Bros. archives being joined in one streaming home that would also have the extensive unscripted libraries of both Bravo and the Discovery networks is quite the attractive opportunity.

Also, DC would be a lucrative property if Comcast did acquire WBD, but it would not be the only money-maker that HBO would bring along. The new “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of The Dragon” recently broke records for HBO Max, garnering 10 million viewers for its first episode alone. With the size of Comcast’s cable market share, these are the types of properties and libraries that the company would need to compete with fellow conglomerates like Disney.

Not all in the industry are enthusiastic about such a merger, however. After Disney took over FOX and with it 20th Century Fox, some in the industry are worried about the further loss of century-old movie studios like Warner Bros. While NBCU would likely keep the studio operational, it would cease to be a standalone studio and would now be just a separate silo in a corporate machine.

Conglomeration of streaming services is inevitable, as customers simply cannot afford to subscribe to every service that comes along. If Warner Bros. Discovery is put up for sale in 2024 or after, expect Comcast to pursue it with every dollar at its disposal, especially if it gets a healthy Hulu buyout from Disney.

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