The last time Disney CEO Bob Iger and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts tangled, in a battle for control of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment business, Roberts came off second best. But as they prepare for their next contest, over ownership of streaming service Hulu, it’s the Comcast CEO who appears to have all the leverage.
Next January, Comcast has the right to sell its 33% stake in Hulu to Disney, the majority owner, at a price that values Hulu overall at $27.5 billion or more. But Hulu’s owners agreed on that valuation in May 2019, when the streaming market was growing quickly. Since then, the overall streaming business has stalled and the stock market has fallen. A wide range of industry executives agrees Hulu isn’t worth anywhere near as much now. Moreover, Disney can ill afford to fork over $9 billion for Comcast’s stake, given that it is carrying a heavy debt load and struggling to deal with losses at its Disney+ flagship streaming service.