Bob Iger: Disney Prepared to ‘Pivot’ in New Direction with Hulu Ownership

Disney’s acquisition of Comcast’s 33% stake in Hulu for total control of the SVOD platform is part of the Mickey Mouse company’s move toward engaging with consumers directly, CEO Bob Iger told an investor group.

The transaction also enables Disney to roll out Hulu and Disney+ internationally unfettered by possible conflicts with Comcast’s ownership of Sky and streaming service Now TV.

Speaking May 14 at the 6th Annual MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York, Iger said full control of Hulu (and Hulu with Live TV) coupled with ESPN+ and Disney+ streaming service (launching Nov. 12) would enable the company to target consumers separately through sports, TV content and movies, or collectively in a digital bundle.

“Managing your customers seamlessly across platforms, I think, has real value,” Iger said. “We have the ability to leverage the content engines in the company [Fox, FX, ABC, Disney, etc.] in a significant way here.”

For example, the executive envisions content creators such as FX and ABC producing programming for streaming on top of their pay-TV and broadcast channels.

“There’s a lot to this [internal synergies],” he said.

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Iger said his focus on direct-to-consumer distribution occurred on a “fateful” day in August 2015 when he claimed to be “rather candid” on an earnings call about the state of the pay-TV ecosystem, and ESPN in particular.

“We were seeing the disruptive effect of technology on traditional businesses,” Iger said, adding that none of the Disney business units (i.e. movies and TV shows) at the time — outside of the Disney Store and theme parks — interacted with the consumer directly.

“We decided we should be in the direct-to-consumer business,” he said, adding that theater operators, pay-TV operators, big box stores and ecommerce platforms have “known and owned” the Disney customer.

“We didn’t and we thought it was a big hole in terms of the company’s value proposition,” Iger said.

That realization prompted Disney to make an initial investment in BAMTech, which later (2017) morphed into complete ownership of the streaming tech company powering HBO Now, MLB.tv and NHL.tv, among other OTT platforms.

“Knowing essentially who [Disney’s consumers] are, we think we can create more value for the company and for them,” Iger said.

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