AT&T sells its stake in Hulu, leaving Disney in control

Hulu has bought out AT&T’s stake in the streaming service as speculation rises over Disney’s plans to become the firm’s sole owner

It is thought that Hulu will be central to Disney's overall streaming strategy as the company also firms up its plans to launch Disney+ in November of this year

US telecoms giant AT&T has sold its nearly 10 percent stake in Hulu back to the streaming service for $1.43bn. The move, announced on April 15, leaves Disney in control of the company with the 60 percent stake it obtained when it bought 21st Century Fox.

The news comes just a week after Disney announced details about its own much-anticipated streaming service

“We thank AT&T for their support and investment over the past two years and look forward to collaboration in the future,” said Hulu CEO Randy Freer in a statement. AT&T gained its stake in Hulu after purchasing Time Warner, now known as WarnerMedia.

Telecoms firm Comcast owns the remaining 30 percent of Hulu, but MarketWatch reported there is speculation that Comcast will sell its shares in the company, leaving Disney the sole owner.

The news comes just a week after Disney announced details about its own much-anticipated streaming service, Disney+. The new service, which will launch in North America in November, will include content from Disney franchises such as Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic and Star Wars, as well as from Fox.

Kevin Mayer, the chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer unit, told investors that the company would likely sell Disney+, Hulu and streaming sports network ESPN+, as a bundle. This could be good news for consumers, who are facing higher costs as the market for streaming services becomes increasingly fragmented.

Currently, Hulu is the third most popular streaming service behind Netflix and Amazon Prime, but it could soon take a backseat to Disney+. According to a report in March by Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff, Hulu is the key to Disney’s streaming strategies.

“Disney+ might end up being built around Hulu, but Hulu will be central to whatever Disney+ becomes in the way that HBO will be central to whatever WarnerMedia’s streaming service becomes,” VanDerWerff wrote.

Hulu’s valuation of $15bn is just a fraction of Netflix’s $152bn, but with Disney on its side, whether or not it undergoes a rebranding, Hulu could finally level the playing field.

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