Three months ago, Disney announced plans to start its own streaming service, which would go live in 2019. Today, those plans seem a bit less certain.
With its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, Disney will bump its ownership stake in Hulu to 60%. And while Disney certainly wins if it collects revenues from both companies, it’s much more cost effective to have a single one. The real trick, though, will be convincing Comcast, which owns a 30% stake in Hulu.
Using Hulu as the home for all things Disney (DIS) would give the company a huge head start, rather than building an audience from scratch. The service stopped giving subscriber numbers last year, but is estimated to have between 12 million and 16 million paid users.
The draw of a service with Disney movies and original programming is strong—and could draw people away from established services, including Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), and even Hulu. And that could be enough to convince Comcast (CMCSA) to go along.
“We believe this is simply not possible without Comcast’s consent and we see no reason why Comcast would want to enable Disney to have a more successful streaming service that hampers the legacy bundle that is vital to Comcast,” said BTIG Analyst Richard Greenfield..
Disney could also attempt to buy out the Hulu shares owned by Comcast and Time Warner (TWX) to gain full control of the service (perhaps striking licensing deals with either or both to ensure the current programming slate remains the same). Hulu, after all, has been a money loser for years, with nine month losses in 2017 totaling $560 million—69% worse than the same period in 2016. And Comcast investors would welcome the extra income.
It is, of course, possible also that Disney could offer a bundle of Hulu with its own service. Or regulators could force the company to divest itself of Hulu as part of the Fox (FOX) merger.
Whatever the case, it’s certainly unlikely that the streaming service will look the same in the next 12-24 months.