AT&T may dump its stake in Hulu, making way for Disney to take more control

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Image: Hulu/George Kraychyk
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AT&T is thinking of getting out of the Hulu business.

After spending $85 billion to acquire Time Warner in June, AT&T is one of the most indebted companies (paywall) in the world with more than $180 billion in debt as of Sept. 30, including nearly $15 billion due in the next year. And so it’s looking for ways to boost free cash flow to pay down that debt. As part of that effort, the company is reviewing some minority investments that are “not essential” to its strategies for transforming its wireless, broadband, TV, and media businesses, said John Stephens, chief financial officer, in a meeting with analysts on Nov. 29. WarnerMedia’s 10% stake in Hulu is one of the non-essentials the company may be looking to unload.

If it does put the stake on the block, The Walt Disney Co. is ready to pounce.

Along with WarnerMedia, Hulu is owned by Disney, 21st Century Fox, and Comcast, which each have a 30% stake. Disney is set to take 60% control of Hulu early next year, when it completes its $71 billion acquisition of most of Fox’s assets. Both Disney and Fox are also prepared to put up $400 million in capital contributions apiece to buy out WarnerMedia’s shares, if the company sells, according to a Nov. 21 filing.

For WarnerMedia, now would be the time to get out. When the company bought 10% of Hulu in August 2016 for $600 million (it has since invested another $200 million), WarnerMedia had the option to sell the shares back to Hulu, or for Hulu to call them back, under certain circumstances, for 36 months following the deal, the Disney filing said. That period would end in August 2019.

Disney last valued Hulu at $9.3 billion, including a premium of $1.25 billion just for Disney gaining control, as of June 30, 2018. That values WarnerMedia’s stake around $930 million.

Want a better understanding Hulu and other streaming giants? Check out our guide to the streaming-TV wars.