Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Don’t Hold Your Breath on That Apple Hulu Deal

If you stop by a Subaru dealer and end up kicking the tires on a new Outback, are you in early talks to consider a bid on a new Outback?

Well, sure. But if you drive off the lot in your old Civic and never come back, no one’s going to be shocked.

So yes, Apple has met with the bankers marketing Hulu, people familiar with the sales process tell me, confirming earlier reports by Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. But I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks Apple is a serious candidate for the video site.

Remember, as Kara Swisher wrote earlier this month: “‘In preliminary talks’ = ‘hawking itself to one of a half dozen big moneybag tech companies who will visit with Hulu’s bankers and management to see its presentation at Morgan Stanley’s office in Century City in Los Angeles.’”

And you may as well read the rest of the post, too, because not much has changed since then.

The big news, if there is any, is that Microsoft’s team has all but put out a press release announcing their disinterest in bidding on the site, which is owned by Providence Equity, Disney, Comcast and News Corp. (News Corp. also owns this Web site). But even that isn’t that meaningful, since they could always jump back in if Redmond changed its mind.

And there are still some smart folks who think the pool of real bidders for the site may end up being very, very shallow. A quick guide to some of the usual suspects:

  • Apple could certainly afford to buy Hulu at any price, since its ever-growing cash pile is now at $76 billion. And the company has already shown an interest in the subscription TV business that Hulu Plus sells — recall its efforts to cobble together a $30-a-month video service. But the free ad-supported business that makes up Hulu’s core is pretty alien to Apple.
  • Industry folks I talk to think Google would love to get its hands on Hulu, and none of them think the company will make an offer. The search giant is already facing a wide-ranging antitrust probe, and adding an exclusive deal for three of the four broadcast TV guys to the mix seems like a nonstarter.
  • Amazon is a logical buyer: Adding Hulu would make a lot of sense for a company that’s trying to jump-start its online video business. The problem here is that content sellers say that Amazon seems wholly uninterested in paying anything close to a premium for online video.
  • Lots of people in and outside of Yahoo would like Carol Bartz to buy Hulu, so this one seems most logical. The question is whether Yahoo’s board will approve what would be a Hail Mary deal.
  • Other possible homes for the site include Verizon and AT&T, as well as Liberty Media/DirectTV. The last one has particular appeal to some folks I talk to, who see Hulu as a natural extension of the satellite TV company’s existing business plan.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald