The owners of Hulu have withdrawn from any plans to sell off the online video service. The news came in a joint statement from News Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, Providence Equity Partners and the Hulu senior management team, but apparently not including NBC Universal, now owned by Comcast, which is precluded from an active role in decisions.
“Since Hulu holds a unique and compelling strategic value to each of its owners, we have terminated the sale process and look forward to working together to continue mapping out its path to even greater success,” read the brief announcement. “Our focus now rests solely on ensuring that our efforts as owners contribute in a meaningful way to the exciting future that lies ahead for Hulu.”
Quite what the unique and compelling strategic value of Hulu is now to its respective investor partners is unclear. Having launched with the best of intentions, they are less than incentivised to see it become successful, certainly not as an independent entity. While Hulu is on track to generate $500 million in revenue this year and it has over a million subscribers to its Hulu Plus premium service, its programming has significantly greater value to its respective partners.
Google, Amazon and Yahoo! apparently offered to buy Hulu, with Google reportedly indicating that it would pay much more for extended rights, as much as $4 billion, more than double what it originally paid for YouTube.
Hulu was created partly in response to the success of YouTube in order to offer high quality long-form programming online. It seemed unlikely that its owners were likely to hand over the keys to the content castle to Google. Without long-term rights deals, it is difficult to see why anyone would pay a premium for Hulu in order to buy a brand and a user base.
So what is the value of Hulu? It is only worth billions if someone is prepared to buy it and the owners are prepared to sell. It turns out the value is strategic.