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Comcast, Disney move up deadline to decide Hulu future ownership


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The timeline to decide Hulu’s ownership fate has been moved up, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said Wednesday.

Comcast and Disney are set to begin those discussions on September 30, months earlier than the initial January 2024 deadline. The talks will include an appraisal process.

Under the original 2019 agreement, Comcast can force Disney to buy (or Disney can require Comcast to sell) that remaining 33% stake in January 2024, at a guaranteed minimum total equity value of $27.5 billion.

“We are excited to get this resolved,” Roberts said Wednesday at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia and Technology conference. “And the minimum $27.5 billion that people have bandied about, that was a hypothetical that we picked five years ago because Disney has control of the company. The company is way more valuable today than it was then. “

Roberts called out Hulu as a great streaming business, second only to industry giant Netflix, which he noted has a market cap of $200 billion. 

The deal between Disney and Comcast has set up, in essence, the first-ever sale of a streaming service of this magnitude, Roberts said on Wednesday. The two companies will each have their own appraiser, and if their valuations are far apart, a third will likely be brought in.

When valuing Hulu, there’s more to consider than just the streaming app itself, Roberts said. A valuation would include the platform’s content, much of which is supplied by Disney. The parties will also assess that Hulu is sold in a bundle with fellow Disney services Disney+ and ESPN+, lowering the likelihood of so-called churn or consumers that drop their subscriptions. 

He also noted that synergies could be worth “a couple billion dollars” to a buyer of Hulu.

“Just that – the synergy and churn benefit, could be worth $30 billion,” Roberts said. 

“I think, if you were selling all this, as is, there would be a line of bidders around the block to buy all the content, all the bundling of Hulu. That business, we’ve never seen,” Roberts said.

A representative for Disney didn’t immediately respond to comment on Wednesday.

Discussions between the two companies regarding Hulu’s valuation have been ongoing in recent years, CNBC has previously reported.

Roberts and Disney’s CEO Bob Iger faced questions about the future of Hulu for some time now.

In May, Roberts said at an investor conference that Comcast would likely sell its 33% stake in Hulu to Disney at the beginning of next year. He suggested the final price for Hulu would likely be higher than that initial valuation.

As the deadline has neared, Comcast’s NBCUniversal has removed content — including series like “Saturday Night Live” that appeared the day after airing on traditional TV — from Hulu and put it on its own fledgling streaming platform, Peacock.

Although Disney+ is the flagship streaming service of the mouse house, Hulu is its adult-oriented content platform known for series like “Only Murders in the Building.”

While Iger said on CNBC earlier this year that “everything is on the table” regarding Hulu, he changed his tune shortly after, announcing in May that Hulu content would be added to Disney+. The content crossover is part of Disney’s push toward offering a “one app experience” in the U.S., Iger had said.

For Disney, the move to add Hulu content to Disney+ came as it focuses on its ad-supported Disney+ option to attract more subscribers and advertising revenue. Iger had called it a “logical progression” for its streaming options that gives more opportunities to advertisers.

The one-app platform is expected to be rolled out by the end of this year.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

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