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Disney Is Saying All the Right Things About the Hulu-Disney+ Relationship

Stephen Lovely, The Motley Fool

When Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) first acquired 21st Century Fox, it gained a stable of media properties that turned it into an even more formidable threat in the streaming world. But it also gained a complicated streaming situation: While Disney was determined to create a new streaming service, the one now known as Disney+, it was also the majority-owner of de facto Disney+ competitor, Hulu.

Since then, Disney has taken major steps to clean up its streaming portfolio. The company bought out Hulu co-owner AT&T and cut a deal with Comcast's NBCUniversal that will ensure that its share ends up with Disney, too (albeit in a few years). Owning all of both Hulu and Disney+ will leave Disney less conflicted in its streaming decisions. Still, running two competing services in-house has its own issues. Fortunately, Disney is saying all the right things.

Two businessmen shake hands

Image source: Getty Images.

Working in tandem

Allowing Hulu and Disney+ to operate more or less independently might make the two services more agile, but it could also lead to a rivalry that could hurt both offerings -- Disney isn't risking it. While the company will work to differentiate the two services, they will not be "silo'd" off from one another. At a conference for Hollywood producers earlier this month, Senior Disney VP of Content Agnes Chu claimed that Disney is "getting to a place where we can have a very fluid conversation across our platforms."

The deal with Comcast was, no doubt, part of what helped Disney "get to this place." Now that Disney can be sure of its long-term control of both streaming services, it is freer to move potential hits back and forth between them -- confident that, wherever a big show lands, it is Disney that will reap the benefits. Chu went on to discuss a documentary team exclusive to Disney+, saying that if they had an idea that would be "a better fit for Hulu," Disney would cooperate in getting the deal done.

Defining differences

Keeping Disney+ and Hulu on the same page is important in part because Disney hopes to offer a consumers a unique experience with each service. When Chu talks about a hypothetical documentary that "might be a better fit for Hulu," she's presumably referencing the fact that Disney is trying to position Hulu as an all-around, adult-facing streaming service, while keeping Disney+ in a more "family friendly" position.

That might be tricky, given that big hits like the Marvel Studios and Star Wars flicks -- both quite popular among adults -- are expected to hit Disney+. But Disney is on record as saying it will use its major IP on Hulu, too -- in fact, two shows based in the Marvel universe are already planned. This suggests that we might see a more mature take on the Star Wars or Marvel universes on Hulu, even as the kid-friendly blockbusters that anchor those franchises remain on Disney+ (there will also be new original Star Wars and Marvel content on Disney+).

Challenges ahead

None of this means things can't go wrong for Disney. While series like The Mandalorian on Disney+ create lots of hype for the upcoming service, they also risk blurring the distinction between the supposedly kid-friendly Disney and the more universal Hulu. And then there's ESPN+, the live sports streaming arm of Disney; the better it gets, the fewer sports fans may need Hulu's live TV streaming service (appropriately named Hulu with Live TV).

Still, Disney is at least saying all of the right things. The Disney brass seems to be aware of the existing and potential conflicts between its own streaming platforms, and they're working to keep things as organized as possible. So far, they seem to be succeeding.

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Stephen Lovely owns shares of AT&T. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.