Comcast officially ended
its pursuit of 21st Century Fox Thursday, releasing a statement that the company would instead focus its efforts on pursuing a majority ownership in the U.K. pay-TV giant Sky.
This step significantly impacts the streaming video marketplace, since it clears the way for Disney to complete its acquisition of Fox, and with it, Fox’s 30% stake in the streaming service Hulu.
The deal will give Disney majority control off the streaming service, with Comcast owning an additional 30%, and AT&T’s Warner Media unit owning the remaining 10%.
With Comcast ceding Fox to Disney, will the cable giant want to keep its minority stake in the streaming service?
According to The New York Times’ Edmund Lee and Prashant Rao, there may be a swap in the works.
The Times suggests that Comcast could give Disney its 30% stake in Hulu in exchange for Fox’s 39% stake in Sky, giving each company almost total control of the respective assets. It’s likely some additional cash would need to change hands, but such a swap would give both Disney and Fox rich spoils.
In recent months, executives at both Comcast and Disney have been singing Hulu’s praises, with Disney CEO Bob Iger saying: “We believe that Hulu is a great opportunity to expand in the DTC space, and having control of it will enable us to greatly accelerate Hulu into that space, and become an even more viable competitor to those out there.”
Disney has said it plans to turn Hulu into a destination featuring a wide-range of content, including adult-focused fare. It will eventually live alongside a more family-focused Disney-branded streaming service, set to launch next year, as well as the sports-centric ESPN+.
Comcast, meanwhile, wouldn’t be giving up all that much. While it has been an investor in Hulu ever since it acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, as part of that deal it had to give up active ownership, letting its partners make key business decisions. That condition was set to expire later this year, but with Disney poised to acquire a majority stake in Hulu anyway, Comcast may be inclined to just let it go.
Either way, Disney’s pending acquisition of Fox makes Hulu’s future a bit clearer. While before it could have faced two different owners or an extension of the status quo, it seems all but certain that sometime this year, Hulu will be under Disney’s control.