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Hulu has agreed to buy back AT&T’s stake in its business in a deal that values the streamer at $15 billion.
The telecom giant’s nearly 10 percent stake in Hulu, which it acquired through the purchase of Time Warner, was worth $1.43 billion in the sale. AT&T said it will use the proceeds from the transaction, along with the sale of other non-core assets, to reduce its debt.
“We thank AT&T for their support and investment over the past two years and look forward to collaboration in the future. WarnerMedia will remain a valued partner to Hulu for years to come as we offer customers the best of TV, live and on demand, all in one place,” Hulu CEO Randy Freer said Monday in a statement.
Founded in 2006, Hulu was originally conceived as a joint venture that would allow the broadcasters to address the growing threat of streaming video. Its first stakeholders were NBC and Fox (via owner News Corp.) and Disney bought into the joint venture in 2009. Time Warner, renamed WarnerMedia after its sale to AT&T, purchased a 10 percent stake in Hulu in 2016 for $583 million, valuing the streamer at $5.8 billion.
Disney became Hulu’s majority owner earlier this year when it acquired most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, including its 30 percent Hulu stake. With AT&T’s sale of its Hulu share, the company is now owned by Disney and Comcast’s NBCUniversal. The two companies will now have a period of time to determine how they will allocate shares that AT&T has sold back to the joint venture. That’s a much less complex corporate structure than Hulu has had in the past, and it remains to be seen whether NBCU will sell its Hulu stake now that Disney has majority ownership of the business. Hulu is expected to be a key piece of Disney’s streaming strategy after it launches its family-friendly subscription service Disney+ in November. Disney direct-to-consumer and international chairman Kevin Mayer said the entertainment giant was “likely” to bundle Disney+ with Hulu and sports-centric ESPN+.
In the three years since Time Warner bought into Hulu, the streamer has grown significantly, more than doubling its subscriber base to over 25 million. It now offers a live TV bundle in addition to its on-demand programming packages. And it has built out an original programming pipeline that includes The Handmaid’s Tale, the first season of which won five Primetime Emmys, the forthcoming drama Catch-22 and the comedies PEN15 and Shrill.
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