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Will Disney Bring Live ABC Stream to Disney+, Hulu; Following Peacock, Paramount+’s Lead?

David Satin

This week, it was reported that NBCUniversal was making the move to bring live streams of NBC affiliates to Peacock in 210 markets. The local channels will be available to customers subscribed to the Peacock Premium tier by Nov. 30, with some markets already beginning to roll out. The announcement is a big step for NBCU, marking a meaningful effort to align the company’s linear and streaming offerings more closely.

Peacock is not the only subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service to integrate a live TV component. Paramount+ Premium subscribers are able to access a live stream of their local CBS affiliate, which means that now two of the three biggest linear broadcast networks offer a live streaming option via their respective SVOD services.

The third of these three networks, ABC, could very well join its linear competitors on an SVOD platform soon. ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company, which just so happens to own some of the largest streaming services in the world. Disney+ and Hulu reported a combined 211.4 million subscribers in their most recent quarterly earnings statement, so Disney undoubtedly already has the reach necessary to justify putting ABC on one of the services.

The biggest question Disney has to answer may be which of the two SVOD services would get the live stream of local ABC affiliates if the company were to follow the necessary steps to make it possible. Disney+ certainly has the broader reach of the two platforms, with 164.2M global subscribers, so it would make sense for Disney to stream ABC channels on its flagship service.

However, Hulu might ultimately end up being the better fit. Hulu has been the streaming home for ABC shows for years, so customers already closely associate the two brands. Additionally, Hulu already has a live TV streaming arm in Hulu + Live TV, which means that the infrastructure to seamlessly incorporate a live ABC stream is already built-in at Hulu. Even the SVOD Hulu already carries ABC News Live and live simulcasts of select sporting events from ESPN+. While Disney+ did begin airing “Dancing with the Stars” live this fall, to date, that is the only live experience that the streamer has.

One big complicating factor in a potential addition of an ABC livestream to Hulu, however, is that Disney only owns 66% of Hulu currently. The streamer was originally split into three equal parts, owned by Disney, FOX, and NBCU’s parent company Comcast. Disney acquired FOX’s stake in 2019, and contractually will purchase Comcast's stake in 2024. But until it does so, putting a live stream of ABC on the platform might have to wait.

While NBCU has pulled all of its next-day streaming rights from Hulu to move to Peacock, the CEOs of Disney and Comcast have recently been engaged in a public back-and-forth over the controlling stake a Hulu meant to either drive the price of Comcast’s share up or down, depending on the side. Obviously, Disney would like to acquire the rest of Hulu as relatively cheaply as possible, so adding a major feature like the ability to watch a local ABC affiliate might actually hurt them in the long run.

So, if Disney opts not to take ABC channels to Hulu, what’s stopping the company from announcing the move top Disney+ today? The biggest stumbling block might be cost. In its quarterly earnings call, Disney executives stated that it expects Disney+ to hit profitability by the fiscal 2024 year. While the technical requirements to add a live ABC feed should be fairly minimal, there would undoubtedly be substantial costs associated with the move, either in terms of personnel, or perhaps contractual considerations that must be accounted for when adding the new streaming outlet.

So, if such a move would significantly hamper the company’s profit projections, it could explain why Disney has not yet moved to make such an addition.

As NBCU and Paramount have shown, the issues keeping Disney from incorporating a live stream of ABC onto an SVOD service are not insurmountable. Disney is a huge company and has the ability to power through such stumbling blocks if it wants to, so the addition of ABC to one of its streaming platforms could come very quickly, and without much warning.

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