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“We struck a deal that we thought was good for Fox shareholders,” he told the crowd at Code Media in Huntington Beach, California, on Monday night, adding that the Fox assets are “a great fit for Disney.”
In December, Disney said it would purchase Fox’s film and TV studios, cable and regional sports networks, and stake in Hulu, among other assets. The split will create a company, dubbed “New Fox,” that will include the Fox network and its affiliates, as well as Fox Sports.
What, exactly, that means for Rice — who serves as president of 21st Century Fox in addition to his role overseeing Fox Networks Group — is still up in the air. And he didn’t give much of a hint during his time onstage Monday. “I don’t know yet,” he responded when asked whether he would go to work for Disney or New Fox.
As for the sons of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Rice agreed that Lachlan Murdoch will likely run New Fox and said that James Murdoch will “be the captain of his own ship. He’s a fantastic media exec. He’ll get to choose what he wants to do.”
During the wide-ranging interview, Rice also touched on the future of Hulu. He sits on the board of the digital video business, which will become majority owned by Disney once the Fox deal closes, and he spoke about its transformation over the last several years as its co-owners (Disney, Fox, Comcast, Time Warner) have invested to help it produce such breakouts as The Handmaid’s Tale.
“By the time the deal closes, I think Hulu will have an excess of 20 million subscribers,” said the exec. That would be 3 million more than its currently reported 17 million members. “It’s added more subscribers in the U.S. than Netflix has both the last two quarters,” he added.
Though Rice didn’t specifically address Hulu’s mounting losses or what the company will look like under Disney control, he noted that it will be “very well-positioned.”
Rice also provided some color around Hulu’s live television service and how it fits into the competitive market for skinny TV bundles distributed over the internet. “It’s growing faster than any of the others and they’re all growing quickly,” he said, adding that, combined, the OTT bundles account for over 4 million subscribers for Fox and its networks. “For the last quarter, it has essentially wiped out any cord-cutting for us.”
The talk started with questions about Fox’s five-year, $3 billion deal for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package. Asked if he overpaid, Rice responded, “I don’t think so. Anytime you go to an auction, somebody wins and everybody who loses says that the winner overpaid.”
He added that, despite the ratings decline, football is still important to Fox, explaining: “You either have the most watched content on television or you don’t have it.”
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