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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Disney says it will take full control of Hulu

By Brooks Barnes New York Times

LOS ANGELES – The tug of war over Hulu is over.

The Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it would take full control of Hulu, one of the world’s most popular streaming services, by paying at least $8.61 billion to buy out Comcast, which owned a 33% stake. Comcast triggered the deal as part of a “put-call” agreement between the companies in 2019. The ultimate price will be determined by an appraisal process that will drag into next year.

Comcast, which recently stopped supplying Hulu with shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Voice,” rerouting them instead to its Peacock streaming service, said in September that it had sped up negotiations to sell Hulu to Disney. Previously, Comcast and Disney agreed that Comcast could force Disney to buy its stake early next year (the “put”). At the same time, Disney had the ability at that point to require Comcast to sell (the “call”).

“The acquisition of Comcast’s stake in Hulu at fair market value will further Disney’s streaming objectives,” Disney said in a statement. Hulu, which has roughly 48 million subscribers, offers programming from ABC, FX, Fox and other traditional networks, along with original shows such as “Only Murders in the Building” and “The Kardashians.”

As part of its push to make its flagship Disney+ streaming service profitable, Disney announced this year that content from Hulu would be made available on Disney+ to subscribers of both services in the United States. (Hulu does not operate overseas, while Disney+ does.) Disney plans to roll out this “one app experience” by the end of the year. Hulu will also continue as a stand-alone product, charging $18 for ad-free access and $8 for an ad-supported option.

Founded in 2007, Hulu was for many years the streaming equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, an emerging startup backed by 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal, Disney and Time Warner. They hoped that the shared ownership would make Hulu the streaming equivalent of Switzerland, a communal hedge against the rising power of the internet, but it proved to be an impediment. Disney gained control over Hulu after it bought 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets in 2019.

Like other big media companies, Disney has been struggling to address investor worries about streaming profitability and the decline of traditional television. Disney shares have been trading at about $81, down from $197 two years ago.

In July, Disney announced that it was exploring a once-unthinkable sale of a stake in ESPN, which has powered much of Disney’s growth over the past two decades. Disney is also selling holdings in India and weighing whether to part with assets such as ABC, the Freeform cable channel and a chain of local TV stations.