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Disney Officially Has All the Power at Hulu Now

Jason Moser and Mac Greer, The Motley Fool

Back when Hulu was getting off the ground, the theory behind the service was that networks would be stronger in streaming together. The companies behind NBC and Fox would both use it to share their content. And later, Disney (NYSE: DIS) -- owner of ABC -- and Time Warner, with its cable channels and movies, would get into the mix. Skinny bundles and partnership deals notwithstanding, that viewpoint has clearly shifted in the years since. Now, thanks to mergers and divestitures, Disney owns two-thirds of Hulu. But it still had to pay attention to minority owner Comcast.

In this segment from MarketFoolery, host Mac Greer and senior analyst Jason Moser discuss the news that Disney has come to an agreement that gives it total control of Hulu now for a buyout of Comcast's stake later, and consider the ways the streaming landscape is evolving.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on May 14, 2019.

Mac Greer: Now let's talk some Disney. Disney is taking full control of Hulu, effective immediately, the company's announcing on Tuesday. Now, Jason, Comcast is the parent company of NBC Universal, which has a 33% stake in Hulu. Comcast has an agreement to sell that stake in Hulu to Disney in 2024 at a valuation of at least $27.5 billion. What do you think of Disney and Hulu?

Jason Moser: Yeah, well, we've talked about this a lot on Motley Fool Money, on MarketFoolery. I think I've said for a while, it felt like everything was ultimately going to revolve around Hulu for Disney at some point. It was just a matter of time before they worked out a deal. I do think the most important part of this deal, at least for Disney, and this had to have been non-negotiable, I would imagine, is that Disney needs full control of this thing immediately. I mean, they do not have any more time to waste in rolling out Iger's ultimate vision here as it comes to -- I don't want to say one app, but it really is this family of apps, it's turning into this entertainment universe between Hulu and Disney+ and ESPN+ and whatever comes down the pike for them. But I think those are the big three for Disney. That's what really matters here. Time was of the essence.

Greer: You mentioned Disney+. One of the things that really turned some heads was Disney's announcement that Disney+ is only going to cost around $6.99 per month. That's essentially half of Netflix. What we learned from this story that we're talking about right now is that NBCUniversal now reconsidering the price of their streaming service, which was going to be, what, double of what Disney was going to do?

Moser: [laughs] It was astounding to me that they would even entertain trying to sell that subscription for $12 a month. If we look at Netflix, and you feel like Netflix is a pretty forgettable price, in that you're getting an awful lot for fairly low amount. People can say, "Well, I don't even really remember what the price is." That's somewhere in the neighborhood of $15. I think that pricing Disney+ and/ or ESPN+ in that $5.99-$6.99 range is super forgettable. I think that's a wonderful strategy on Disney's part. People will subscribe and immediately forget that they have it, and they'll just always have it and recognize that they have a lot of value because of the content there. For NBC to even entertain pricing that app at $12 is beyond me. Ten dollars, which is now what they're apparently considering, I still find to be way, way overpriced when you think about what you might be getting with it.

But I do feel like, and I said this a couple of weeks ago, I feel like these legacy networks, CBS and NBC and ABC, their better opportunity, I think their real opportunity is to figure out a way to be a part of that Hulu universe. I think we've hit peak app downloads for folks in the entertainment market. I don't want to download any more apps to watch the content that I want to watch. I don't think you do, either.

Greer: No.

Moser: Dan was very clear before taping that he doesn't want to, either.

Greer: Very, very clear. Emphatic, I would say.

Moser: Emphatic, indeed. You could put an exclamation point on the end of every one of our sentences there. I think that for NBC, it's going to be interesting to watch this shake out because their two biggest crown jewels, I guess we could say, would be, Friends and The Office. Those are, right now, on Netflix. We've already seen how the talk is shaking out there. Eventually, NBC's going to take that stuff back. I don't even think that they could take those two crown jewels to support their own app. I think at some point or another, we're going to see NBC try to figure out a way to be part of that Hulu universe. I think that they've done a good job with Hulu in building that Live offering, along with a separate streaming offering if you just want that. They're getting some good original content on there, and ultimately, giving Disney the control to build that thing out the way they want to, I think is going to work out well for them over time.

Greer: Yeah. It's interesting to note that currently, NBC getting around $500 million a year for its content on Hulu. There's some economics that they've got to weigh here.

Moser: Well, there are. You want to ask the question -- because for NBC, it's a legitimate question, they have to answer this and think, do we want to be a part of the Netflix universe, which is massive distribution, that tremendous audience, a lot of people subscribe to Netflix. Do you want to be a part of that universe for potentially a shorter period of time and make a lot of money up front? Or would you rather lay the groundwork to be a part of that Hulu universe for a much longer period of time, even though you may not be making as much money up front on some of those most valuable properties? It's that long-term investor vs. the short-term investor. They're going to have to answer that. I would always opt for seeing the forest for the trees there and go for the longer view. Regardless, I mean, I think this is all shaking out essentially how we thought it was going to shake out. Disney gets ultimate control of Hulu, which is what they always wanted. Comcast and NBC gets a nice little put option there on top of it all in. I think it's a deal that works out well for both.

Jason Moser owns shares of Walt Disney. Mac Greer owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.