Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hulu: Here we go again

You may recall that in June of last year, Hulu put itself up for sale, in part because of strategic disagreements between joint venture partners Disney and News Corp. (NBCUniversal, the third partner in Hulu, is prevented from taking an active management role as part of the terms of Comcast's deal to acquire NBCUniversal.) In October, Hulu's owners cancelled the sale because of "disappointingly low offers." That didn't solve the strategic differences between the partners, however. Today, All Things Digital reported that Guggenheim Partners, Yahoo and Amazon, possibly among others, are considering making offers to acquire Hulu--even though the partners haven't announced that it's for sale. The smell of blood in the water is just too strong.

I'll keep this brief: The reason that the offers for Hulu were disappointingly low last year was that the partners were unwilling to offer Hulu's buyers long-term access to their content. Exactly the same issue will arise if Hulu is put up for sale again. Hulu is effectively worthless without its content. With the exception of Guggenheim Partners, all of the potential bidders already have their own video infrastructure, players and apps. There was a time when Hulu's player was head and shoulders above anyone else's, but that's simply not the case anymore.

The purchase price of Hulu will have to include three to five years' of the partners' content, along with assurances that their content will continue to be available after that time at a price that Hulu's buyer can afford. If the content isn't there, any potential deal will fall apart.

This could turn into the Mergers & Acquisitions equivalent of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute every year. Fox Sports could broadcast "Who Wants To Buy Hulu?"--just put Cleatus the robot into an Armani pinstripe suit, give the play-by-play to Fox Business, and you're all set. For now, all we can do is sit back and watch the action.
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