Are Disney And Fox Ready To Use Hulu To Declare War On Cable TV?

Updated with NBCU status: Disney and Fox are at least preparing to threaten their cable and satellite allies, The Wall Street Journal disclosed last night. Hulu, which the programming companies co-own with Comcast, is ginning up a Sling TV-like skinny bundle of live-streamed broadcast and pay TV channels that might appeal to cord-cutters.

The entertainment powers are working on terms to license services including ABC, ESPN, Disney Channel, Fox, Fox News, FX and Fox-owned sports channels to a Hulu service that might launch early next year.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal also is actively negotiating to provide some of its channels.

Along with the live stream, a new Hulu service reportedly would include a cloud-based digital video recorder and targeted ads. Hulu currently offers delayed VOD viewing of network shows, as well as other library and original content.

Although the service might encourage cord cutting, Comcast can’t veto the plan. It relinquished its vote on Hulu matters until 2018 as part of the deal it made with the Justice Department in 2011 to keep antitrust officials from suing to block its acquisition of NBCU.

Two weeks ago, Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger speculated that Disney and Fox might want to offer their channels directly to consumers via Hulu because “skinny bundles are gaining in popularity” and the companies could profit by cutting out the middle man.

If Disney and Fox crafted a $40-a-month service that also included A&E, CBS, NBCU, and Time Warner channels, he figures, then Hulu could still profit with entertainment, sports, news, and kids programming that currently attracts 63% of the 18-to-49 viewing audience.

But a Hulu online rival to cable an satellite might accelerate cord-cutting as well as the general decline in TV advertising.

It also might spur those left out of the Hulu offering to create a rival streaming service. By Juenger’s calculation, Discovery, AMC Networks, Viacom, and Scripps could profit by joining together to offer a bundle for $9 a month. A viewer theoretically could combine that with Netflix and Amazon Prime and still spend 30% less than the $40 price he imagines for Hulu.

Hulu will address advertisers on Wednesday at its annual upfront presentation.

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