The streaming landscape has been a tumultuous one as we near the end of the first half of 2023. Many big media companies have been hit with layoffs. Paramount just shuttered MTV News in its entirety. Concerns of revenue and profitability are running high at Disney as well, which is one of the reasons why Bob Iger is back to run the show. Iger has had a lot to say about how things should run, and when it comes to streaming, he’s announced some plans regarding Disney+ and Hulu.
Disney has three major streaming platforms that it runs in the United States, Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. The latter of these is unique in that it’s only majority owned by Disney; one-third of the network is owned by Comcast. Comcast is also the parent company of NBCUniversal and its streaming network, Peacock. This puts Disney in a unique position of sharing a platform with one of its direct streaming rivals to which Iger may not see this as a bad thing.
Previously, Iger was against the idea of “undifferentiated entertainment,” and was willing to wash Disney’s hands of Hulu. Undifferentiated meant programming that was not specifically under Disney’s wheelhouse (Think the days of Touchstone). The cost of maintaining a streaming network based on strictly original programming is a massive revenue sink. Having a wider array of content could be much more appealing to advertisers given the ad-supported streaming model Hulu has. The end result would be content from Disney+ and Hulu merging into one app while the services themselves will stay separate.
Right now if you were to log into Hulu, you wouldn’t find virtually any Disney+ content on there, even if it’s owned by Disney and vice-versa. You’re not going to find “Home Improvement” on Disney+ even though it was produced by Buena Vista Television. As this plan starts to roll out by the end of the year though, subscribers of both Disney+ and Hulu will be able to find all the content in one place. That being said, there’s still the issue of what happens with Comcast.
January of 2024 will be a pivotal moment for Hulu as that month begins a potential put/buy option between Disney and Comcast. The former could force Comcast to sell its stake in Hulu, or Comcast could in-turn, force Disney to buy out the remaining third. This could greatly affect whether Hulu remains a standalone company or completely folds into Disney+, similar to what Paramount is effectively doing with Showtime.
Bob Iger has led Disney to success in the past and there’s little reason to doubt he can do it again. Even though he was only retired as CEO from February of 2020 to November of 2022, a lot of things changed during that time in terms of media development and delivery methods. And as the market has changed, it’s things like Hulu that hang in the balance of what the future holds.