Disney is in discussions to buy AT&T’s 10 percent stake in Hulu, which it comes into by way of its WarnerMedia acquisition, according to a report from Variety this morning. The news is not surprising — AT&T had already said it was exploring a sale. And Disney has been looking to increase its stake in Hulu following its deal for 20th Century Fox which, when closed, will see Disney picking up Fox’s 30 percent share in Hulu.
Currently, Disney owns a 30 percent stake in Hulu’s streaming service. That means the Fox deal will give it a 60 percent stake in Hulu. Snagging AT&T’s Hulu share would bring Disney’s ownership to 70 percent.
Comcast/NBCU is Hulu’s other major owner, but isn’t currently prepared to sell, Variety said.
AT&T had detailed its streaming plans to investors in November, noting at the time it was thinking of selling its Hulu stake as part of its larger goal to “monetize assets” that were not essential to its current strategies and to help pay down its debt. Its Hulu share is valued at $930 million.
AT&T has little interest in Hulu because it’s building out its own internet-based streaming services, including live TV service DirecTV Now; the more lightweight WatchTV; and a new service that leverages its WarnerMedia properties. WarnerMedia also today operates streaming services for its brands, like HBO NOW, Boomerang, DC Universe and others.
Disney, meanwhile, is preparing to launch its family-friendly Netflix competitor, Disney+, but sees Hulu as a place to house its more adult-oriented programming and general entertainment properties.
Hulu today has 25 million subscribers, but is still a smaller player compared with Netflix because it’s not yet available worldwide. It also hasn’t invested in original programming at Netflix’s scale. Disney’s increased ownership will change these things and could help Hulu compete on the market against larger rivals like Netflix, AT&T/WarnerMedia and soon Apple, as well.