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Disney plans to turn Hulu into the third component of its direct-to-consumer business once it becomes a majority owner of the streaming service.
Executive vp Kevin Mayer, who oversees corporate strategy and acquisitions for Disney, said Tuesday during an appearance at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, California, that Hulu will house Disney’s general entertainment properties and serve as a complement to the sports-focused and family-centric over-the-top businesses it is currently building. That means primetime ABC programs, Freeform shows and FX series will continue to live on that platform.
Questions have swirled about the future of Hulu since Disney announced in December that it would acquire Fox’s 30 percent stake in the business as part of a larger, $52.4 billion acquisition of Fox assets. (Comcast and Time Warner will continue to own stakes in Hulu, too.) Some observers wondered whether Disney would use Hulu’s existing base of 17 million subscribers to launch its family-friendly service, which will feature Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar properties.
Hulu is still in a growth phase and losses are mounting as it continues to pump more resources into developing breakouts like The Handmaid’s Tale and acquiring exclusive rights to hits like ER. But Mayer said little will change once Disney controls Fox’s stake in the business. “We’re very much in support of growing Hulu. It takes an investment,” said the exec, adding that he believes it will become “a big profitable service.”
Mayer also discussed the sports-themed service, ESPN Plus, that Disney will launch later this year. The $5-per-month service won’t have NFL games or other sports televised on ESPN, but it will offer 182 Major League Baseball games, all Major League Soccer out-of-market games and the exclusive library of ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 documentaries.
For the still-unnamed family-friendly service, meanwhile, Disney will make decisions about which movies and shows to debut there on a case-by-case basis. “All of our bigger movies, I think, will ultimately go through somewhat of a traditional path” before they hit the streaming service, he said, but added, “The final decision will be made by [Disney CEO Bob Iger].”
Mayer, who began his career at Disney in 1993 and returned to the company in 2005, has been speculated as a potential candidate to take over ESPN following the resignation of longtime president John Skipper. But when asked about whether he wanted the job, he demurred: “ESPN is great, but I’m going to do what Bob asks me to do, happily.”
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