Disney was likely not entirely pleased about losing Sky to Comcast: Last year, when Disney’s deal for Fox was announced, Disney CEO Bob Iger called it a “crown jewel.” But now the company is seeing an upside.
Fox this week said it would sell its 39% stake in Sky to Comcast after losing out to Comcast in a U.K. regulatory auction for Sky’s publicly traded portion. Disney gave Fox its consent to sell off its stake in Sky and said in a statement that the deal, coupled with its planned sale of Fox’s 21 regional sports networks, will reduce the amount of debt it incurs in its $71.3 billion deal for 21st Century Fox.
Disney said it’s going to take the money it saves because of those transactions and put it into its direct-to-consumer brands, including the Disney-branded direct-to-consumer offering launching in late 2019 and the new ESPN+ sports streaming service. The company said it will also seek to increase investment in Hulu’s content offerings and international distribution. Currently, Disney and 21st Century Fox each currently hold 30% stakes in Hulu.
“Along with the net proceeds from the divestiture of the RSNs, the sale of Fox’s Sky holdings will substantially reduce the cost of our overall acquisition and allow us to aggressively invest in building and creating high-quality content for our direct-to-consumer platforms to meet the growing demands of viewers,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney, in a statement.
Following Fox’s agreement to sell its minority stake in Sky to Comcast, industry speculation emerges suggesting that Comcast might sell its 30% stake in Hulu to Disney. Disney’s somewhat tentative investment plans for Hulu—as compared to its plans for ESPN+ and its branded streaming service—suggest that Disney might want Comcast out of the way before it really starts spending on Hulu.
BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said that Disney would likely be interested in merging the Disney-branded SVOD and Hulu to offer a single DTC service.
“Unfortunately, with Comcast as a 30% owner with three seats on the Hulu board, we believe Disney is unable to fundamentally alter Hulu’s strategy and cannot simply combine it with Disneyflix. Worse yet for Disney, only owning 60% of Hulu makes it harder to justify investing aggressively in Hulu vs. 100%-owned Disneyflix,” Greenfield wrote in a research note.
Considering Comcast’s and Disney’s less-than-cordial relationship—Comcast tried to outbid Disney for Fox and then went and snatched Sky out from under Disney—Greenfield suspects that Comcast may keep its stake in Hulu just to irk Disney.
“Relations between Disney and Comcast have been and continue to be poor. These two companies and their senior executives are NOT friends. This is war; Comcast remaining in Hulu and keeping three board seats that enable them to have a say in Hulu’s future will drive Disney absolutely crazy. This might be reason enough to keep the 30% stake,” Greenfield wrote.