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Hulu might look very different a year from now. AT&T has sold its roughly 10 percent stake in Hulu back to the streaming service today for $1.43 billion dollars, making it that much more likely that Hulu will become a Disney-centric service in the future.
Just last year, Hulu was still divided evenly between Disney, Fox, and Comcast — each owning a 30 percent cut of the company — alongside AT&T’s roughly 10 percent stake. But Disney gained a controlling interest in Hulu when it bought Fox, and the AT&T sale means Disney now owns a staggering 66 percent of the service, with Comcast owning the remaining 33 percent.
But it’s not just about the money and the percent-ownership; Disney gaining even more control over Hulu could also mean a radical shift in what Hulu even is. Right now, the service offers streaming content from a huge range of providers, including Comcast-owned NBC and Universal, and AT&T-owned networks like TBS and TNT.
Now that AT&T no longer has skin in the game, it’s easy to imagine a future where the company pulls its shows entirely in favor of its own streaming efforts. (AT&T now has its own video empire after purchasing Time Warner, after all.) And if Comcast follows suit, it could leave Hulu as an exclusively Disney service that compliments the upcoming $7-a-month Disney+. Disney has even hinted as much, with the company highlighting in the past few days the different roles it intends for Hulu and Disney+, with Hulu offering more mature content, and even the potential for a joint bundle. (Perhaps AT&T saw the writing on the wall when Disney assumed control.)
While that’s good for Disney, it’s a decidedly less appealing future for consumers, who could see one of the last streaming services to offer cross-network content get fractured into even more monthly fees to watch all your shows.