Disney secures full control of Hulu from Comcast as it realises streaming ambitions

Disney has assumed "full operational control" of streaming service Hulu from Comcast, meaning the OTT service is no longer shared across a handful of media operators.

It marks a year of dramatic change for Hulu. In 2018, Disney, Fox and Comcast each owned 30% of the service, with AT&T holding the final 10%.

Since then, Disney has acquired Fox (and its Hulu stake) and AT&T has sold its stake back to Hulu after acquiring Time Warner. Disney owned 66% of the company before today’s deal. Now, it has agreed to snap up the remaining stake from Comcast.

Comcast has given up its voting rights on the Hulu board and will sell to Disney at market value (decided by an independent third party) within the next five years.

This ‘put/call agreement’ will see Comcast's current stake be worth no less than 21% of the company in the next five years. It will see a return of at least $5.8bn from the deal.

The deal is unlikely to affect the distribution of content on the platform for the immediate future. Comcast has extended the Hulu license of NBCUniversal content and the Hulu Live carriage agreement for NBCUniversal channels until late 2024. This deal is worth $500m a year to Hulu.

Comcast will also distribute Hulu on its Xfinity X1 platform. Many of these deals can be terminated in three years’ time, from which NBCUniversal can operate an OTT service of its own. It retains the option of also licensing content to Hulu at a lower fee.

The play is the latest as Disney gears up for an eventual stand-off against global OTT market leader Netflix. The latter's Marvel TV partnership was discontinued as Disney readies the launch of its own streaming service, Disney+, in late 2019.

EMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom told The Drum: "Disney’s full control of Hulu will give it more flexibility to weather the storm as consumers move away from the traditional Pay TV bundle. With this move, Hulu will have more freedom to align its strategy with Disney+ and ESPN+. Importantly, Hulu will retain valuable exclusive streaming rights to some of Comcast’s NBCUniversal content, as NBCUniversal is currently preparing to launch its own digital offering.”

In the US, eMarketer expects Hulu to have 63.9 million individual users this year, a jump of 19.3% over last year. Rival Netflix will capture nearly 35.2% of US subscription OTT video users.

The move also comes the same week Disney moved the US media planning and buying for its newly acquired 20th Century Fox assets to Omnicom-owned OMD.

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