Comcast and Disney have announced an agreement that will give Disney full control of Hulu starting today. It’s part of a “put/call” deal that will allow either Disney or Comcast to force a sale of Comcast’s remaining 33 percent stake to Disney starting in January 2024.
As part of that deal, Comcast is also promising that Hulu will still get to carry NBCUniversal content as well as live stream NBCUniversal channels for Hulu’s live TV service until “late 2024.” It’s the kind of licensing deal for content that Disney CEO Bob Iger hinted would continue to exist under a Disney-owned Hulu earlier in the month.
Additionally, Comcast gets the chance to put shows on its own upcoming streaming service that are currently licensed exclusively to Hulu starting in one year, in exchange for reducing Hulu’s license fee for that content.
Comcast and Disney both win here
It’s the sort of deal that makes sense for both sides of the equation: Disney gets full control over Hulu today, instead of having to negotiate with Comcast over details or steamroll them aside with its existing majority stake (which could lose goodwill for the licensing agreements Disney wants to keep for all those NBC shows and Universal movies), and the option to mandate the sale of the final 33 percent that Comcast owns in 2024.
In the meantime, Disney can start to put its plans for Hulu in motion as part of the company’s grander streaming ambitions (including potential bundles with Disney+ and ESPN+) while still keeping all the Comcast content.
Comcast gets a guaranteed minimum sale price for its Hulu stake in 2024, no doubt hoping that Bob Iger’s golden touch will cause a Disney-owned Hulu to jump in value (increasing Comcast’s take if it does sell) and the freedom to put its Hulu-exclusive shows on its own streaming platform next year when it does launch.
The big question, of course, is: what will happen in 2024 when Comcast has the freedom to pull all its NBCUniversal content from Hulu? Will customers still want Hulu if its just Disney-owned content? (It’s a portfolio that’s admittedly grown larger than ever, thanks to the recent Fox deal.)
The Comcast deal today marks the final piece of the puzzle for Disney, which has rapidly assumed total control over Hulu in an incredibly short amount of time: at this time last year, Hulu was owned evenly by Disney, Fox, and Comcast (with a 30 percent stake each) along with a minority 10 percent stake owned by AT&T. Flash-forward to today, and Disney has bought Fox’s stake, AT&T jumped ship, and now Disney is poised to own the entire thing in a few years.
With the deals that Disney has with AT&T and Comcast, it seems that the short-term future of Hulu is secured. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens when those deals expire and what Disney does when faced with the increased competition from the upcoming streaming services from Comcast and AT&T that will be around when they do.