Forget about the idea of AT&T (NYSE: T) or any other service provider bulking up its online presence by adding Hulu to its portfolio. Hulu's owners--21st Century Fox, Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA)-owned NBCUniversal--have again withdrawn the company from the sales block.
This time there's a twist. Rather than sell for up to $1 billion, as some estimates had it, the three players will invest $750 million into Hulu to make it more competitive with Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and others in the streaming video space.
It's unlikely that a third "for sale" sign will go up on the service. Two years ago. Hulu put itself up for sale only to back away. Then the owners bickered about how to run the service and the signs went back out on the front of the Hulu lawn, attracting the likes of AT&T, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) and DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV), among others, according to published reports.
A Los Angeles Times story indicated that Hulu might not be for sale but it may still be open for a partner's investment. The front runner, the newspaper suggested, would be Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) which, according to the newspaper, had only ever sought to invest in the service, not acquire it.
Other suitors wanted the whole enchilada. DirecTV needed an online streaming site to bulk up its business and AT&T, which reportedly partnered with the Chernin Group, could have blended the service seamlessly into its U-verse IPTV play. Those, and others interested in plunking down big money for the streaming service, apparently turned the heads of Hulu's ownership triumvirate to the point where they now believe there's a real business to be pursued.
"Hulu has emerged as one of the most consumer friendly, technologically innovative viewing platforms in the digital era," said Disney Chairman-CEO Roger Iger in a statement to the Times. "As its evolution continues, Disney and its partners are committing resources to enable Hulu to achieve its maximum potential."
Chase Carey, president of 21st Century Fox and a sometimes opponent of Disney in how Hulu should proceed, agreed with Iger that it was better at this time to move forward with the service they started in 2008.
"We decided to continue to empower the Hulu team … to continue the incredible momentum they've built over the last few years," Carey said.
NBCUniversal, as part of the terms under which it was acquired by Comcast, was predictably and legally silent on the matter.
- the Los Angeles Times has this story
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