Friday, July 01, 2011

Google (plus Microsoft, Yahoo, Wendy's, Pep Boys, etc.) are in talks to buy Hulu

The Los Angeles Times reported today that Google is in preliminary talks to buy Hulu. More precisely, as the newspaper reported in the very next sentence, Hulu's investment advisors have arranged to make presentations to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, and probably any other company that has money in the bank. Whether Google is seriously interested, or is simply "kicking the tires", remains to be seen.

Hulu has a very nice technical platform and semi-exclusive distribution rights from its existing owners (Comcast, News Corporation and Disney), but it doesn't own any content. It has no permanent exclusive rights to anything, but it recently renewed its distribution rights with News Corp. and Disney. Comcast, which acquired part of Hulu when it acquired majority control of NBCUniversal, is prohibited by the terms of that acquisition from exercising any control over Hulu, so it's required to license its content to Hulu on the same terms and conditions as its other partners.

For Hulu to have any real value to Google or anyone else, the buyer will have to get Hulu's existing partners to grant semi-exclusive rights for much longer than three years. Most buyers would settle for a ten-year deal, but if Hulu's existing owners could take back the rights after just a few years, the company would have almost no value to an unaffiliated buyer.

If Hulu's current owners are willing to grant long-term distribution rights, an acquisition could happen fairly quickly. However, if, as reported elsewhere, Hulu's current owners and content partners are demanding that the company's distribution rights be renegotiated after the acquisition, it makes little sense for anyone to bid.

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