The implacable march of Big Mouse continues. After completing their purchase of 21st Century Fox earlier this year, which included a 30 percent share in streaming service Hulu, Disney is now rearing, baring its fangs, and consuming Hulu completely.
Granted, the situation is slightly more complicated than that doom-mongering rhetoric. Hulu’s ownership was and is not cut-and-dried in the same way as, say, Britain’s ownership of the Falkland Islands. Originally, it was part-owned by Fox, Disney, NBCUniversal (a Comcast subsidiary) and Warner Bros., placing it in a uniquely advantageous position in terms of sourcing programming. Of these original parent companies, Disney and Comcast still have stakes in Hulu – but the news here is that Comcast have thrown up their hands and relinquished all operation control of Hulu to Disney.
In effect, Disney and Comcast have struck upon a ‘put/call’ agreement – a term which isn’t from the world of blackjack, merely sounds and acts like it – in which, by 2024, either Disney will have buy up Comcast’s remaining stake (speculated in the region of $9 billion) in Hulu, or otherwise Comcast will be obliged to sell it on the open market. Given Disney’s recent history of acquiring vulnerable media companies, one of these options seems far more likely.
Comcast has agreed to keep streaming NBCUniversal content on Hulu until 2024 – and remember, it was this diversity of content that was always one of Hulu’s strengths. Further muddying the waters is the question of how exactly this is going to play into the launch of Disney’s own upcoming streaming service, the creatively named Disney+.
One possibility is that Hulu will serve as a pressure valve for anything too adult for Disney+, given that it’s Hulu who broadcast The Handmaid’s Tale. However, the solid plans revealed so far seem to point towards Hulu serving as a dumping ground for the Marvel Television Universe (also, of course, owned by Disney), with a number of both animated and live-action shows in the works, including an eagerly anticipated Howard the Duck project. Probably more important, though, is that this represents Disney claiming further ground in their inevitable clash with Netflix – still, despite an increasingly crowded marketplace, frontrunners of the streaming service market.