BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield, who contends the media triumvirate that owns Hulu--New Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA), Disney (NYSE: DIS), and Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) NBCUniversal--should take the site off the market and grow it themselves, nevertheless has come up with a Top 10 list of the companies he thinks would be the best fit to acquire the property. His best bet: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), because, as he puts it, "Google wants to be a much bigger player in video."
Here's a look at Greenfield's list:
Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), who he said has become "increasingly ambitious in the online video arena." But, he said, Amazon doesn't know the ad business, a significant downside.
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), which last year tested the waters with its own offer of a subscription TV package that went nowhere, could use Hulu to get the same job done. But again, it's the ad "thing" that could get in the way. Add the fact that Apple has spent less than $1 billion on acquisitions during its history, and it becomes a long shot. However, incoming CEO Tim Cook could shake up that strategy.
AT&T (NYSE: T) would be a challenging fit, Greenfield said, because it would have to contend with technology issues, a limited subscriber footprint, and little experience running an Internet startup. Add in the telco's toe-to-toe with Comcast, and that gets even more unlikely.
Satellite TV provider Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH) CEO Charlie Ergen might see real synergies in combining the streaming movie offering that's been rumored since his buy of bankrupt Blockbuster with the TV content he would have from Hulu. But he's a tough guy when it comes to making programming deals, which might not bode well for Hulu's future.
Satellite competitor DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) could buy Hulu to give DirecTV unique content to promote to its subscribers, similar to what it does with its NFL Sunday Ticket.
Google has always wanted Hulu, or at least for its YouTube business to be as cool as Hulu. Google has money, it has technology to spare, and it really understands advertising. But Hollywood hates Google, the way arachnophobes hate spiders: they're afraid of it. At the same time, Greenfield notes, Google has tons of cash for programming and Hollywood, in the end, is as capitalistic as any business.
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has cash, a history of acquisition--it has spent upwards of $20 billion to buy other companies if you include its $8.5 billion bid for Skype--and the Xbox, which is a primo delivery system and hugely successful with younger viewers who have bought millions of them.
Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) said it wouldn't bid on Hulu, and Greenfield said he'd be surprised if it did. Netflix has already run into trouble dealing with content owners who would likely be unwilling to allow the streaming site to create an online video monopoly.
Verizon (NYSE: VZ) has the delivery system--its FiOS TV is all next-gen wireline technology and has a robust LTE wireless offering--but also has a limited footprint and suffers, as does AT&T, from a lack of experience with the ad world.
A Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) bid for Hulu would have all the hallmarks of a Hail Mary pass, with the same chance at success. Greenfield rates its chances as very low, with a likely shareholder rebellion in the wings if it does try.
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