Disney is still considering the options for its majority stake in Hulu and the potential to acquire the rest of the company from Comcast. The chief executive of Disney warned that not everyone will win in the online video business, although naturally he is optimistic about the prospects for Disney+.
When the Walt Disney Company acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, it gained majority control of the Hulu online video service, which was launched back in 2007.
At the end of 2022, Hulu had 48 million subscribers, including 4.5 million for its live television package.
Comcast has the option to sell its remaining stake in the business at fair market value in 2024, with a minimum valuation of its share at just over $9 billion. Comcast has also expressed an interest in buying Disney out of Hulu, although that could just be a negotiating strategy.
Speaking at an investment conference, Bob Iger, the returning chief executive of Disney, said the company is exploring its strategic options.
“What we’re doing right now — because we own two-thirds of Hulu, and we have an agreement with Comcast that may result in us owning 100 percent — is we’re really studying the business very, very carefully, all those competitive dynamics with an understanding that we have a good platform in Hulu.”
He described Hulu as a solid platform that is attractive to advertisers, but added: “the environment is very, very tricky right now and before we make any big decisions about our level of investment, our commitment to that business, we want to understand where it could go”.
“The whole streaming business, other than Netflix, which is relatively mature, is a nascent business for most of us.”
He commented on the competitive nature of the online video landscape, with numerous competing brands.
“Every one of them is going to be highly profitable in a couple of years, and grow subs by the tens of millions? It can’t possibly happen. There are six or seven, you know, basically well-funded, aggressive streaming businesses out there all seeking the same subscribers, in many cases competing for the same content. Not everybody’s going to win,” he said.
Naturally, he is optimistic about the prospects for Disney+, including its recently launched tier with advertising. “We grew at such a meteoric rate, we’re not going to see that kind of growth trajectory going forward,” he said. “But in many of the markets outside of the United States that we’ve launched in, it’s still very, very new. And I think that there’s sub growth ahead, particularly as we get more consistent in terms of our content delivery.”
The Disney chief executive was less optimistic about the prospects for traditional television networks.
“I’ve said publicly that the future of linear, I don’t believe is very bright and eventually everything will migrate to streaming. We’re not quite there yet. And so you have an erosion of a traditional platform and its economics and some growth in the new platform but not the kind of compelling growth it will all need to be profitable. It’s just a tricky period of time.”
Meanwhile, traditional networks and online services can co-exist. “It’s already clear to us that the exclusivity that we thought would be so valuable in growing subs, well, it wasn’t as valuable as we thought,” he said. “Content can actually exist on on a traditional platform and the streaming platform quite well without doing damage to either one.”