Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hulu’s Owners Call Off Sale

Hulu won’t be bought by Amazon, Google or anyone else, say Hulu’s owners. Here’s the release:


Los Angeles, New York & Providence, RI – October 13, 2011 – The following is a joint statement from Hulu owners News Corporation, Providence Equity Partners, The Walt Disney Company and the Hulu senior management team:
“Since Hulu holds a unique and compelling strategic value to each of its owners, we have terminated the sale process and look forward to working together to continue mapping out its path to even greater success. Our focus now rests solely on ensuring that our efforts as owners contribute in a meaningful way to the exciting future that lies ahead for Hulu.”

So that ends one chapter of the odd Hulu story. Not a shocking end, because it has never been clear that Hulu’s owners — who include Comcast, Disney and News Corp., which also owns this site — actually did want to hand it off to someone else.

I can save myself some work by quoting from the piece I wrote back in June, when the sale process kicked off, sparked by an overture from Yahoo:

… while it’s natural to think about who might be interested in buying Hulu, it’s the wrong question. The right one: What are Hulu’s owners selling?

More specifically, what kind of content licenses are Hulu’s three broadcast owners — News Corp.’s Fox, Disney’s ABC, and Comcast’s NBC — willing to part with?

Because it’s the TV shows from those three companies that give Hulu almost all of its value. And while those shows have helped Hulu build a big Web business very quickly — Hulu has said it’s on track to generate $500 million in revenue this year — that’s not nearly as important to Hulu’s owners as their core TV business.

That fundamental tension is what led to Hulu CEO Jason Kilar’s Web outburst in February this year, and it’s what has underscored the networks’ recent renegotiations of their distribution deals with the site.

And all of that has been going on while the networks own big equity stakes. If they sell that, then those tensions only increase. Or, put another way: They’ve got even less incentive to make Hulu work. …

So once again we’ve got diverging interests at Hulu. But if push comes to shove, I’m betting on the guys who own the content. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t end up selling a thing.

Next up: Now that Hulu’s owners are keeping the site, what will they do with it — and who will run it? Jason Kilar is still CEO, but prior to this summer’s auction he’d spent months butting heads with his owners, who don’t see eye to eye with him on many things. My gut is they’ll offer him a significant incentive package to stay, but that it won’t be enough.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik