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Disney Would Like to Buy the Rest of Hulu Sooner than 2024, Merge It with Disney+?

David Satin

Hulu may not be a standalone service much longer, if Disney has any say in the matter (and it will). Disney currently owns two-thirds of the general entertainment streaming service following the company’s acquisition of FOX in 2019. At that time, ABC, NBC and FOX were equal partners in Hulu, but the deal gave Disney majority control. Now, the company only shares control of Hulu with Comcast, which owns the other third. Under a deal made in 2019, Disney can purchase the rest of Hulu from Comcast in 2024.

However, Disney would like to get that deal done sooner, at least according to its CEO Bob Chapek. The exec’s comments at the 2022 Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Technology Conference make it clear that the company not only intends to acquire the remaining portion of the streamer from Comcast, but would like to get the process going sooner rather than later.

“We would love to get to the endpoint earlier [than 2024], but that obviously takes some level of propensity for the other party to have reasonable terms for us to get there,” Chapek said. “And if we could get there, I would be more than happy to try to facilitate that.”

The sticking point in the negotiations may be that the two companies have different numbers on the valuation of Comcast’s 33% of Hulu. Comcast CEO Brian Robinson doesn’t sound like he’s desperate to be rid of the company’s Hulu stake,judging by comments he made at the same conference, at least not for a sizeable fee.

“The value that we structured into the agreement anticipates that robust auction for 100% of Hulu,” Robinson said. “As a going concern, what would somebody pay for that? And we get our fair share of that, today, about 1/3 of the equity. So I think it’s got tremendous value, and I’m sure our shareholders share that belief.”

Clearly, Robinson is not interested in selling his company’s stake in Hulu for a bargain price. Part of the reasoning behind his reticence is the revenue that Disney would see from potentially merging Hulu with Disney+ into a single entertainment streaming service, which is likely in the cards once both streamers are completely controlled by Disney. The company already offers Disney+ and Hulu’s libraries on the same platform in other markets under the Star brand. The House of Mouse would clearly like to integrate Hulu and Disney+ in the U.S. as well, but it needs to own all of Hulu’s rights first.

“I do believe that we’d have to have full ownership of Hulu to integrate it into Disney+,” Chapek said. He echoed those statements in an interview with CNBC, saying that Disney would merge Hulu with Disney+ “tomorrow, if we could.”

Chapek also said that if that merger did have to wait until 2024, he wasn’t concerned about losing too many subscribers to consumer friction in the meantime.

“2024 is not that far away, first of all, and I mean look at the success of our soft bundle,” he said. “So we’re kind of doing it anyway. But you’re right, there’s a little bit of consumer friction there in terms of having to go out of one app and into another. So I think, long term, we can avoid that.”

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