Is Comcast’s CEO Really Interested in Owning All of Hulu, or Is He Just Driving up the Price for Disney?
This week, many of the biggest CEOs in the streaming industry spoke to investors and reporters at the annual Comcast Corp at Goldman Sachs Communacopia & Technology Conference. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts answered questions on Wednesday and had some interesting comments about the company’s potential sale of its 33% stake in Hulu.
The discussion stems from an agreement between Disney and Comcast struck when Disney purchased Fox in 2019. Initially, the three broadcast networks — ABC, FOX, NBC — were all equal partners in the streaming venture; however, with Disney’s acquisition, the company now controlled two-thirds of the streamer. It was at that point that the two companies agreed that Disney would be able to buy out the remaining ownership Hulu in five years. Disney CEO Bob Chapek would like to get that process rolling sooner than 2024, but Roberts seems more reticent.
“I do believe that we’d have to have full ownership of Hulu to integrate it into Disney+,” Chapek said. “We would love to get to the endpoint earlier, but that obviously takes some level of propensity for the other party to have reasonable terms for us to get there. And if we could get there, I would be more than happy to try to facilitate that.”
While the Disney CEO seems eager to finalize the future of Hulu, it does not appear that Comcast is interested in just handing over the remainder of the service at a discount.
“I believe if Hulu was for sale, put up for sale, Comcast would be interested, and so would a lot of other tech and media companies. And you would have robust auction,” Roberts said.
When asked outright if he would buy 100% of Hulu from Disney if it were put up for sale, Roberts answered simply, “That question is up to Disney.”
On their face, these comments would seem to suggest that Roberts’ interest in acquiring all of Hulu has not slackened since his company was blocked from doing so in 2019. However, some of his other comments seem to suggest that since he knows he won’t be given the chance to buy all of Hulu, he’d like to drive the price up for the remaining 33% that his company does still own.
“The value that we structured into the agreement anticipates that robust auction for 100% of the company,” he 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.”
Those comments come amidst some concern in the marketplace that Hulu’s value isn’t what it used to be. Roberts pushed back against that notion, citing Hulu’s robust subscription numbers and content library. Either Roberts is highly enamored with Hulu as a product, or he wants the market— and Disney specifically— to think he is.
There has been speculation that Disney is hesitant to finalize the purchase of Hulu, but Chapek’s statements at the conference should put that to rest; but, judging by Robert’s comments, the price tag may be rising by the hour.
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