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Analyst: Is Disney Making Moves to Sell Hulu, ESPN?

David Satin

The winds of change are currently at gale force across the streaming industry. Services are absorbing sibling networks, others are launching ad-supported tiers, companies are licensing their content to third parties, and shows and movies are being removed from platforms industry-wide, all in the name of cutting costs and boosting revenues.

Disney is the latest company to feel the winds of change blowing. The company is reportedly exploring licensing some shows and movies to other media outlets in order to enhance its revenue and bring down mounting streaming losses. But some industry analysts believe that this move could simply be the first step toward bigger changes to come for the Disney streamers Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.

Richard Greenfield, Brandon Ross, and Mark Kelly of the technology, media, and telecommunications research firm Lightshed Partners speculated recently that Disney’s exploration of content licensing could be the first step toward the company selling Hulu and spinning off ESPN.

The trio’s logic is financially based. Disney currently owns 67% of Hulu, after acquiring one-third of the company in its purchase of most of FOX’s assets in 2019. Disney already owned a third of Hulu before the FOX acquisition, and the final third is currently owned by Comcast. Thanks to contractual terms, if Disney decides to buy the rest of Hulu from Comcast before 2024, Comcast must sell.

However, to date, the two sides have not been able to reach an amicable agreement over the price of Comcast’s stake in Hulu. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has stated on multiple occasions that if that portion of Hulu were put up for auction, it would fetch an even higher price than the $27 billion minimum valuation that the initial contract put on it.

Lightshed notes that if Disney were to sell its portion of Hulu instead, it would be recouping $50+ billion instead of having to shell out even more. The move would also allow current Disney CEO Bob Iger to stay true to his vision of Disney+ as a home for family-oriented entertainment, as more adult programming has generally been steered toward Hulu. This would allow Disney to adjust its streaming focus to what it does best while also padding its bottom line, which saw a $1.5 billion loss in the most recent earnings report.

Hulu’s content library would be immediately attractive to companies like Netflix or Amazon that could afford to pay the necessarily high cost of acquiring it, although Comcast would be the most obvious partner, as the cable and broadband company already owns 33% of the streamer. Between original series like “The Dropout” and “Dropsick” and hit shows from FX like “The Bear” and “What We Do in the Shadows,” there is plenty on Hulu for other companies to get excited about, but it might prove difficult for Disney to find a partner with deep enough pockets to afford such an acquisition in this market.

If Disney were able to unload Hulu, would ESPN be next? There’s no denying the popularity of live sports on pay TV, but paying for sports broadcasting rights is an expensive proposition. If Disney were to unload ESPN as well, it could bank another hefty cash infusion and remove a costly expense from its balance sheet. In 2022, investor Dan Loeb was vocal in his opinion that Disney should spin off ESPN as soon as possible, but with the diminishing returns of linear broadcasting, is there any company willing to make it worth Disney’s while to part with the worldwide leader of sports?

Such sales would not come without major questions. If Disney sold Hulu, what would happen to the integrated Disney+/Hulu service in Europe that operates under the “Star” brand? Would content from Disney-owned channels like ABC, FX, and Freeform still stream on the service? How would Disney Bundle customers be affected if the company dumped Hulu, ESPN+, or both?

The sales of Hulu and ESPN would mark seismic shifts in Disney’s corporate philosophy. But they would also bring in big chunks of quick revenue, and for a company with as many budgetary issues as Disney is currently suffering, that’s nothing to sneeze at. The company’s streaming losses of $1.5 billion in its most recent earnings report led in part to Iger being brought back to right the ship. In his previous tenure leading the company, Iger bought Pixar, Marvel, and Fox, this time around, his legacy might be in what he sells, instead of what he buys.

  • Disney+

    Disney+ is a video streaming service with over 13,000 series and films from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, The Muppets, and more. It is available in 61 countries and 21 languages. It is notable for its popular original series like “The Mandalorian,” “Ms. Marvel,” “Loki,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” and “Andor.”

    Disney+ has two plans – one with ads and one without ads. Disney+ Basic with Ads costs $7.99 / month. If you don’t want ads, you can choose Disney+ Premium with No Ads which costs $10.99 / month.

    The Premium plan also offers an annual option for $109.99 / year ($9.17/mo.).

    If you want all of Disney streaming services, they have two options for The Disney Bundle. The Disney Bundle Basic includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ (with Ads) for $7.99 / month. The Disney Bundle Premium (without Ads) for $19.99 / month.

    The app supports unlimited downloads (on their Premium Plans), four simultaneous streamers, up to 7 profiles, 4K streaming, and includes hundreds of avatars.

    The service includes 25+ original series, 10+ original movies, 7,500 past episodes, 100 recent movies, and 400 library titles including the entire Disney Vault.

    You can see the full list of available Disney, Disney Channel, Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, Nat Geo shows and movies, or all available Disney+ content by checking out our Disney+ Streaming Movie List.

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    Get Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for just $12.99 a month ($13 savings).

  • Hulu

    Hulu is a video streaming service that gives access to thousands of full seasons of exclusive series, hit movies, kids shows, and Hulu Originals like “Only Murders in the Building,” and “The Handmaid's Tale.”

    It offers a good selection of current TV shows and its ad-supported tier is cheaper than both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. You will be able to watch most shows from networks like ABC and Fox, and cable channels like FXX, FXM, HGTV, and more.

    The service has a Limited Commercials plan for $7.99 a month, or you can upgrade to their No Ads plan for $14.99 a month. For $69.99 a month, you can get Hulu Live TV from major cable channels, live locals and regional sports networks.

  • ESPN+

    ESPN+ is a live TV streaming service that gives access to thousands of live sporting events, original shows like Peyton’s Place, the entire library of 30 for 30, E:60, The Last Dance, as well exclusive written analysis from top ESPN insiders.

    The service can be subscribed for $9.99 / month per month or annually for $99.99 / year.

    You will get a daily out-of-market game from MLB, and every out-of-market NHL with NHL Power Play (previously NHL.TV). For NFL Fans, they have an exclusive NFL game, and simulcast select Monday Football games.

    The service has some of the most attractive soccer coverage including Bundesliga, LaLiga, FA Cup, UEFA Nations League, EFL Championship, EFL Carabao Cup, Eredevise and more.

    College sports fans will be able to watch thousands of games and events including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics, swimming & diving, lacrosse, wrestling, volleyball, golf, and more.

    For boxing and UFC fans, the service offers Top Rank boxing and will be the home of 15 exclusive UFC events.

    ESPN+ now includes exclusive insights from analysts like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (which used to be part of ESPN Insider), as well as premium Fantasy Tools & PickCenter.

    What it does not include is most live sports that air on ESPN and ESPN2.

    To get access to those channels you have to subscribe to a live TV streaming service. We suggest reading our guide on How to Watch ESPN without Cable.


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