Surprise: Comcast, Disney To Start Hulu Sale Appraisal Process Sept. 30

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts dropped something of a bombshell on Wednesday, with a public announcement that Comcast and Disney have agreed to trigger the appraisal process for determining who will take over Hulu starting Sept. 30.

“As of September 30, after some short period of time Disney can call, we can put, and I believe that’s what will end up happening,” Roberts said during a Goldman Sachs investor conference.

Disney currently owns two-thirds of Hulu, and Comcast the remaining third.

Under a 2019 deal, Disney was given full operational control of Hulu and the option to buy Comcast’s Hulu stake at a valuation of at least $27.5 billion, and either Comcast or Disney can trigger a sale or purchase starting January 2024. Industry speculation about the specific timing and outcome of the negotiations has been rampant for years now.



“It will take a little time for this to play out, but both companies wanted to get it behind us, so we pulled the date forward,” Roberts said.

With more than 48 million subscribers, about $3.9 billion in ad revenue last year and a projected $4.8 billion this year, Hulu is by far the largest ad-supported streaming platform.

In his view, Roberts said, a fair deal price could be at least $30 million, because it would need to include “a lot more than Hulu” — that is, include not just the streaming service’s standalone value, but its value for creating synergies with other services, such as helping to reduce their subscriber churn.

Hulu is a “kingmaker asset,” Roberts said, adding that if it were put up for sale in an open auction, it would likely attract bids from big tech companies and other major players.

Hulu originated in 2017 as a streamer owned by Disney, Comcast’s NBCUniversal, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox. Disney acquired majority ownership of Hulu as part of its acquisition of 21st Century Fox entertainment assets, adding another 10% when AT&T sold that stake back to Hulu when it acquired Time Warner in 2019.

In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that after a “years-long battle marked by legal threats, broken promises and secret arbitration,” Disney and Comcast were still tens of billons of dollars apart in their estimation’s of Hulu’s value (with Disney valuing the Hulu stake at just $8.7 billion as of October 2022) — and that the companies had taken the dispute to an arbitrator, after Comcast had stopped funding Hulu, leaving Disney to pay the bills. Neither company commented on that report.

Last year, Comcast pulled its top-tier NBC content from Hulu, moving lucrative in-syndication series including “The Office” and “Parks & Recreation” exclusively to its own flagship streamer, Peacock. Disney, in turn, added TV shows from FX and Freeform to Hulu and struck licensing deals with rivals including Warner Bros Discovery to add other classic TV shows.

Disney’s December 2022 U.S. launch of an ad-supported tier of Disney+ and subscription plan options that span ad-supported as well as ad-free streaming bundles that include Hulu or Hulu+ Live TV may have altered the dynamics, by seeming to imply an acknowledgment of Hulu’s synergistic value by Disney CEO Bob Iger.

But in one of Iger’s last public remarks on Hulu, during Disney’s fiscal Q2 earnings call this April, he said that “everything was on the table,” seeming to suggest Disney had not ruled out selling its stake in Hulu rather than buying Comcast’s.
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