Disney Has Big Plans for Hulu

Hulu may be losing millions in equity for its corporate parents, but that isn’t stopping The Walt Disney Co. from dreaming big going forward about the 11-year-old SVOD service and online TV platform.

Disney, which attributed $10 million in Q4 equity losses to higher programming, marketing and labor costs at Hulu, partially offset by growth in subscription (20+ million) and advertising revenue, will become majority (60%) owner of the SVOD when its acquisition of 20thCentury Fox Film Corp. is finalized.

Hulu’s other corporate owners include Comcast (30%) and WarnerMedia (10%).

Speaking Nov. 8 on the fiscal call, Disney CEO Bob Iger thinks Hulu’s sub growth, brand strength and user demographics portend an opportunity to increase investment in Hulu – especially on programming.

“With this [Fox] acquisition comes not only some great IP, but some excellent talent, particularly on the television side,” Iger said. “And we aim to use the television production capabilities of the combined company to fuel Hulu with a lot more original programming … [content] that we feel will enable Hulu to compete even more aggressively in the marketplace.”

Specifically, Iger cited Hulu’s younger user base – apparently 20 years younger than competitors Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – and penchant for off-network content.

“And that’s clearly attractive to advertisers, which I think has been somewhat underappreciated about Hulu in that it … can offer targeted ads,” Iger said.

Hulu’s base $7.99 subscription plan features ad-supported content, while the $11.99 plan is ad-free. Iger says the service – especially the $39.99 Hulu With Live TV – has some price elasticity of demand.

“I think there’s an opportunity to improve – or I should say increase our pricing there,” he said.

Notably, Iger envisions Hulu focusing on general and edgier entertainment (i.e. Fox’s “American Horror Story” and R-rated movies), with Disney+ catering to softer fare.

“We’ll leave the more family-oriented programming to the Disney+ app,” he said.

DOJ Upping Comcast Scrutiny Over Hulu

When Comcast acquired NBC Universal in 2011, federal regulators required the Philadelphia-based media conglomerate to step away from management issues regarding Hulu — the subscription streaming video service it co-owns with the Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and AT&T’s WarnerMedia.

With those and other regulatory restrictions lifted this year, Comcast, which owns 30% of Hulu, now has more of input into how Hulu — and online TV service Hulu Live — operate. The cable operator announced last month the appointment of three members to Hulu’s board of directors, who include NBC Universal executives Jeff Shell, Linda Yaccarino and Matt Bond.

Now the U.S. Depart of Justice’s antitrust unit plans to up its oversight into how Comcast its renewed leverage on how Hulu operates in the pay-TV ecosystem, according to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim.

Speaking Oct. 3 to Senators in Washington, D.C., Delrahim was asked if Comcast increased oversight of Hulu posed a threat to consumers.

“Certainly, Hulu could be a competitor to the cable business,” Delrahim told Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), according to Bloomberg. “And it’s one that we will examine carefully to see if they might take any conduct that would harm its ability to compete.”

Indeed, in a letter to Comcast prior to restrictions being lifted, Delrahim reminded the company that government oversight was not in the past tense.

“The department retains jurisdiction to enforce the antitrust laws and takes its obligations seriously,” he wrote on Aug. 14.“We would appreciate your cooperation in keeping us informed by providing the department with any plans you may have to change your policies or practices involving video programming and distribution.”

Interestingly, the DOJ could forward the letter to Disney, which will own 60% Hulu following its $71 billion acquisition of select Fox assets, including Hulu. That deal, whose price tag was significantly reduced following Comcast’s separate purchase of British satellite TV operator Sky, is still under regulatory approval.

Disney plans to launch a branded OTT video service next year – as it did this year with ESPN+.

 

Comcast Acquires 30% of Sky Stock Following Weekend Auction Win

Comcast Corp. Sept. 25 disclosed it has acquired 30% of British satellite TV operator Sky Plc., shares following a weekend takeover auction win over 21st Century Fox.

Fox, which owns 39% of Sky, is selling its stake, in addition to 20thCentury Fox Film, to The Walt Disney Co.

Comcast said it would continue to acquire Sky shares from investors for the £17.28 ($22.60) per share price hammered out in the special auction for controlling interest in the pay-TV operator. The share price values Sky at more than $40 billion. Fox had offered £15.67 per share.

“Comcast Bidco will continue to acquire Sky Shares in the market from eligible shareholders outside the United States at up to and including £17.28 in cash for each Sky Share,” Comcast said in a statement first reported by CNBC, which is owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal subsidiary.

Indeed, Comcast needs to acquire 50% of Sky’s stock plus one additional share to complete the takeover. Sky’s board approved Comcast’s offer, calling it “materially superior” to Fox’s bid and called on Sky investors to “immediately” accept it.

Notably, when Fox first bid on Sky’s remaining stock in late 2016, its offer totaled £10.75 per share.

Meanwhile, Comcast shares continue to decline following the auction, with some analysts contending the media giant overpaid for a waning distribution model (satellite TV).

Not so for Liberty Global CEO Michael Fries, who called Comcast’s purchase price a “great outcome” for Sky shareholders. The executive said it values the European pay-TV market, an ecosystem he claims is often overlooked.

Fries called on Comcast CEO Brian Roberts to remain “rationale” on the deal and to give it time to playout.

“I think the purchase price is terrific,” he told Bloomberg.

 

ESPN+ Streaming Video Service Tops 1 Million Subs

The Walt Disney Co.’s direct-to-consumer and international segment Sept. 20 announced that ESPN+, the subscription streaming video service, has surpassed 1 million paying subscribers since its April launch.

The $4.99 monthly service ($49.99 per year) represents Disney’s first foray into branded standalone OTT video – a strategy Disney began implementing with the $3.75 billion acquisition of BAMTech in 2017.

“Reaching one million paid subscribers … in such a short time is an incredible testament to the teams from DTCI and ESPN who have worked tirelessly to bring this product to market,” Kevin Mayer, chairman, direct-to-consumer and international, The Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.

ESPN+ is intended to complement the ESPN pay-TV network, while focusing on global sports and original programming, including new “30 for 30 documentary, “Seau” (directed by Kirby Bradley); original studio programs, “Always Late with Katie NolanDetail from Kobe Bryant, The Fantasy Show with Mathew BerryESPN FC”, “In The Crease”, “Ariel and the Bad Guy with Ariel Helwani; original series like Earn Everything” about Duke Basketball, NBA: YearOneDraft Academy and Quest for The Stanley Cup; and the entire “30 For 30” library, among other shows.

ESPN+ is part of the ESPN app available across mobile (iOS, Android) and living room devices (Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku. ESPN+ is also available on the Web through ESPN.com.

An update to the ESPN App (v 6.2) last month integrated “ESPN Insider” into the ESPN+ service, enabling subs access to editorial analysis on players, teams, and leagues, as well as analytics tools to help users get an edge in their fantasy games.

ESPN+ subs get a differentiated advertising experience throughout the entire ESPN App or website, with no display ads and no pre-roll ads within video content (ads remain in the natural advertising breaks of live sports content).

“Combining sports, technology and the ESPN brand is a very powerful combination,” said Jimmy Pitaro, president of ESPN and co-chair, Disney Media Networks.

 

Fox, Comcast Extend Offer for Sky to Oct. 6

As expected, 21stCentury Fox has extended its offer for remaining shares of U.K. satellite TV distributor Sky to Oct. 6 – the same date Comcast extended its competing offer.

Comcast currently holds the higher bid: $34 billion (£14.75 per share) compared to Fox’s £14 per share. Yet neither offer has resonated with Sky shareholders, with less 30% of shareholders tendering Comcast’s offer compared to 0.07% for Fox’s offer.

Fox, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, currently owns 39% of Sky. The Walt Disney Co. outbid Comcast for select Fox assets, which include 20thCentury Fox Film and Sky.

With Sky’ stock closing down Sept. 17 at £15.78 per share in London, it’s clear investors are hoping for a superior bid from either Comcast, Fox or even Disney.

Following the deadline, corporate takeover rules in the United Kingdom mandate a five-day sealed auction overseen by regulators with Comcast, Fox and Sky agreeing on the terms.

 

 

 

Fox Doubles Fiscal-Year Hulu Equity Loss

Hulu, the SVOD service co-owned by The Walt Disney Co., Comcast, 21st Century Fox and WarnerMedia, may have 20 million subscribers, an Emmy-winning series (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and an online TV component. It also has burgeoning costs for its corporate owners.

Fox on Aug. 8 disclosed it generated a $127 million fourth-quarter (ended June 30) equity loss for its 30% stake in Hulu. That was up 135% from an equity loss of $54 million during the previous-year period.

For its fiscal year, Fox posted a Hulu equity loss of $445 million – more than double the $215 million equity loss last year.

With Disney assuming Fox’s Hulu stake (for 60% controlling stake) as part of its $71 billion acquisition of 20thCentury Fox Film and other Fox assets, expect the Mickey Mouse company’s equity loss to increase.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy alluded as much on the company’s Aug. 7 fiscal call.

“The higher losses at Hulu were primarily driven by higher programming and labor costs, partially offset by higher subscription and advertising revenue,” McCarthy said

Indeed, Disney attributed a $49 million second-quarter equity loss to Hulu, which mushroomed to a $193 million through the first six months of the year.

Hulu lost $920 million in 2017 compared to a loss of $531 million in 2016. The fiscal loss is reportedly projected to reach $1.7 billion this year as the service ups original content spending on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Marvel’s Runaways,” “Future Man,” and “The Doozers,” among others.

 

Disney CEO Bob Iger: OTT Video No. 1 Priority, Not Competing Against Netflix

With the Walt Disney Co. planning to launch a branded over-the-top video platform in late 2019, the SVOD service, along with digital platform ESPN+ and majority ownership of Hulu will dominate the company’s objectives in the coming year, according to CEO Bob Iger.

Speaking Aug. 7 on the fiscal call, Iger said OTT video is a reality and here to stay. He said the pending Disney services would focus on incorporating core brands, including Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar, in an effort to complement, and to a lesser extent, compete with SVOD platforms such as Netflix, which is spending $8 billion this year alone on original content.

“The launch of [direct-to-consumer] product at the end of 2019 is the biggest priority of the company during calendar 2019,” said Iger, adding that the service would initially target core Disney fans.

“There will be significant amounts of support given across all of our assets to see to it that the platform launches successfully,” he said.

The service/app will feature original branded series and movies, including the first-ever live-action “Star Wars” series, and new episodes of the “Star Wars: Code Wars” animated series; a live-action version of The Lady and the Tramp, in addition to other new series based on popular Disney properties.

“The [20th Century Fox Film] acquisition brings even more opportunity to create original programming for this platform,” said Iger, who added Disney plans on walking before running with the new service.

“It’s takes time to build the kind of content library [for the service that] ultimately we intend to build,” he said. “Because the app will feature Pixar, Disney, Marvel, National Geographic, Lucasfilm and Star Wars, we feel that it doesn’t have to have anything close to the volume of what Netflix has.”

“This gives us the ability to not necessarily be in the volume game, but be in the quality game,” said Iger. “It’s not as though the cupboard’s going to bare.”

Iger said the recently launched ESPN+, pending family-oriented Disney service along with the existing Hulu platform appeal to different consumer tastes and audience demographics.

“As we look at the environment today … we don’t want to go to market with an aggregation play that replicates the multichannel [TV bundle] environment, because we feel consumers are more interested in making [channel] decisions on their own,” said Iger. “We can offer that kind of flexibility to consumers because that’s … what consumer behavior demands.”

The CEO reiterated that the Disney OTT service would be priced lower than Netflix to reflect the difference in content offerings. He said that upon closing the Fox acquisition, Hulu would “also fit into our app strategy.”

When asked how the 2019 theatrical slate could impact the streaming service, Iger said existing distribution windows would be configured to benefit the OTT service. Next year’s slate includes Captain Marvel, Dumbo, Avengers 4, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Jungle Cruise, Artemis Fowl, Frozen 2 and Star Wars Episode 9.

“For 2019, the studio movie slate is clean and unencumbered,” he said.

Disney, Fox Shareholders Approve Historic Deal

The big deal is on.

As expected, shareholders of The Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox  on July 27 approved Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets, in one of the biggest media mergers of all time.

Investors approved the $71.3 billion deal – first proposed last December – in separate meetings at the New York Hilton. Both meetings were brief, less than 15 minutes. Fox shareholders were told the union would be completed in the first half of 2019.

Indeed, 21st Century Fox, which is selling select Fox assets, including 20th Century Fox Film, and Disney July 26 filed for regulatory approval in Brazil, claiming the merger does not hinder competition.

The shareholder vote came a month, to the day, after Disney won U.S. antitrust approval to buy Fox’s entertainment assets on the condition it divest 22 Regional Sports Networks (RSNs).

Disney had initially offered $52.4 billion to buy the Fox movie and TV assets, but after Comcast Corporation in early June countered with a $65 billion all-cash deal, Disney upped its cash-and-stock offer to $71.3 billion.

A little more than a week ago, Comcast dropped its bid and shifted its focus to buying European pay-TV operator Sky.

Comcast Tops Fox’s Bid for Sky as British Government Greenlights Murdoch’s Offer

NEWS ANALYSIS — As expected, Comcast Corp. increased its all-cash offer for British satellite TV operator Sky to $34 billion (£26 billion), or £14.75 per share, exceeding 21st Century Fox’s revised offer of £14 per share. Fox, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, currently owns 39% of Sky.

This came the day before the British government — after months of regulatory review — formally cleared Fox’s pursuit for remaining interest in Sky.

“It’s now a matter for Sky shareholders to decide whether to accept 21stCentury Fox’s bid,” Jeremy Wright, U.K. cultural and media secretary, said in a July 12 statement.

Which could be meaningless considering the third player (Disney) in this high-stakes media consolidation battle last month upped its bid for Fox to $71.3 billion (which includes Fox’s stake in Sky) after Comcast offered $65 billion — topping the Mickey Mouse’s company’s initial $52.4 billion acquisition amount.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has called Sky – with 23 million subscribers in the U.K., Germany and Italy, and a budding over-the-top video business – the “crown jewel” in the Fox deal.

Comcast claims its superior cash offer (Disney’s bid is cash and stock) has been recommended by an independent committee on Sky’s board of directors.

The company says it has the relevant regulatory approvals in the European Union, Austria, Germany, and Italy —  and expects to complete the acquisition before the end of October.

In a statement, the Philadelphia-based media giant said it has long admired Sky and believes the satellite operator is an outstanding company and a great fit with Comcast Cable.

“Today’s [July 11] announcement further underscores Comcast’s belief and its commitment to owning Sky,” said the company headed by cable veteran Brian Roberts.

Fox and Disney shareholders are slated to vote July 27 on the latter’s bid for 20th Century Fox Film, Sky and related assets. This gives Comcast about two weeks to up its Fox bid. Or does it?

BTIG Research senior analyst Rich Greenfield — in response to media scuttlebutt Comcast and Disney could stop the fiscal escalations with Comcast taking Sky and Disney opting for Fox’s assets — says such a move would be detrimental to both sides.

He said combining Disney and 20th Century Fox Film would dwarf Comcast-owned Universal Studios, while Disney abandoning Sky would give Comcast greater distribution.

“Why start a fight you do not want to finish?” Greenfield wrote in a blog note. “If Disney’s acquisition goal is adding 100% owned and controlled subscriber relationships, why go through all this effort and allow Comcast to own all of or at the very least control Sky?”

Fox Tops Comcast’s Sky Merger Offer

The “Sky” is apparently the limit for 21st Century Fox, which on July 11 upped its offer more than 30% for the British satellite TV operator to £14 per share — valuing the company at $32.5 billion. Fox, in late 2016, offered £10.75 per share of Sky stock (61%) it did not already own.

The bid represents an 82% premium on Sky’s £7.69 per share closing price the day before Fox’s initial bid. It also tops Comcast’s rival offer of £12.50 per share.

“As a founding member of Sky, we have remained deeply committed to bringing these two organizations together to create a world-class business positioned to deliver the very best entertainment experiences well into the future,” Fox said in a statement.

It’s a sentiment shared by The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast, which both have competing takeover bids for select Fox assets, including 2oth Century Fox Film and Sky.

Consolidation in the media world is in full swing following AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner as companies grapple with over-the-top video and subscription streaming video behemoths Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Disney last month upped its offer for Fox to $71.3 billion after Comcast bid $65 billion — topping Disney’s initial $52.4 billion acquisition amount.

Federal regulators last month approved Disney’s bid after the Mickey Mouse company agreed to divest 22 regional Fox Sports networks. Across the pond, the U.K. Secretary of State is expected rule on the Fox/Sky deal by July 12.

Regardless, Sky shares closed July 10 at £15.01 per share suggesting the sky is indeed the limit for shareholders convinced the bidding war will continue.