It seems like Disney, Hulu’s controlling shareholder, doesn’t know what it wants to do with the streaming service after the covid-19 pandemic delayed plans to finally expand it outside the U.S. According to Bloomberg, those plans were supposed to get underway in January, but that never happened. Instead, Disney has been focusing more on its own streaming service, Disney+.
But people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that Disney evidently has paused Hulu’s international expansion not just because the pandemic wreaked havoc on its theme park and movie studio revenue, but also because the higher Hulu is valued, the more money Disney owes to Comcast. Disney agreed to buy out Comcast’s Hulu shares by 2024 for a minimum of $5.8 billion. If Hulu expanded internationally, that would increase its value, and Disney would owe Comcast more money.
That leaves Hulu in a sort of limbo, because it offers many Fox films and TV shows, which Disney owns the rights to since its purchase of the studio was finalized back in March of 2019. But according to Bloomberg’s sources, it’s possible that Disney could be considering folding Hulu into Disney+. Disney has been looking for ways to include more mature programming on its streaming service. Adding Hulu content, especially Fox content, would be an easy way to do that.
This has led some to speculate that Disney is losing interest in expanding Hulu internationally as a stand-alone service, according to Bloomberg. NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast (which, again, still owns a stake in Hulu until 2024), apparently approached Disney about acquiring Hulu, but Disney turned down that offer, and offers from several private equity firms.
Disney is under a lot of pressure from shareholders to make a stronger pivot to streaming, so folding Hulu into Disney+ would likely make more financial sense than trying to expand two separate streaming services internationally. Adding Hulu shows to Disney+, or completely combining the two, would boost Disney’s streaming service numbers dramatically. The company already offers a streaming service bundle with Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for $13 a month.
This is all speculation at this point. Who knows what will happen when 2024 rolls around? But once Disney owns 100% of Hulu, it can do whatever it wants with it—and streaming domination probably looks like an attractive option.