Disney to buy remaining 33% stake in streaming service Hulu

Disney+ streaming service on a TV
Disney+ streaming service on a TV

Disney has announced that it will buy the remaining stake in streaming service Hulu, in a widely expected move.

The company said on Wednesday it would acquire the 33% stake it does not own from TV giant Comcast.

This would give Disney full ownership of the streaming service and the ability to incorporate it into its own Disney+ platform.

Disney has been locked in battle with other streamers as profits have fallen.

Completing its takeover of Hulu is expected to cost some $8.6bn (£7bn), Disney said in a statement.

But it added that the move would "further Disney's streaming objectives" as it sought to boost subscriber numbers.

In the US, the entertainment giant already sells Hulu as part of bundled offerings with its Disney+ and ESPN+ platforms.

In the UK, some Hulu content is already available to watch via the Disney+ app, such as The Kardashians and The Bear.

The price tag reflects a "guaranteed floor value" for the streaming service that was established when California-based Disney took over Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox in a huge deal in 2019, along with a majority stake in Hulu.

Under an agreement between Disney and Comcast that year, both firms had the right to force a sale of Comcast's stake in Hulu - and executives have been vocal about wanting to do a deal.

But at a conference this year, Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts described Hulu as a "scarce kingmaker asset", which was "way more valuable today" due to its hits like the series Only Murders in the Building.

Disney said on Wednesday that it hoped the deal would be concluded by 1 December although negotiations with Comcast, NBC Universal's parent company, are ongoing.

In the announcement, Disney said that if the current value of Hulu was determined to be greater than the guaranteed price, it would pay NBC Universal the difference.

Hulu currently has about 48.3 million subscribers, in comparison with Disney's 146.1 million globally.

The boss of Disney, Bob Iger, told investors in August that the company was moving towards having one app in the US where it could combine content from its various brands.

Since economies have reopened from pandemic-related lockdowns, competition for audience attention has been fierce.

Disney reported in August that profits continued to fall as it faced a raft of issues including lacklustre film performance and a sharp drop in advertising sales in its traditional television business.

Overall, revenue at the company grew by 4% year on year in the three months ending 1 July, but it posted a loss of $460m, compared with a $1.4bn profit in the same period last year.

Alongside Disney, other streamers have been weighing up how to generate cash and crack down on password-sharing.

The film and television sector has also seen some productions paused by strikes in the US, slowing down the turnaround of the new content needed to hook audiences.

A senior Disney creative behind films like Frozen recently told the BBC that the actors' strike could halt animation production later this year.