Walt Disney (DIS) finally cracked the code, breathing new life into its Disney+ streaming service. This week's blowout quarter came with a monster beat in Disney+ subscriber additions, something that had been a sticking point on Wall Street in a few of the company's previous financial updates. Now that its flagship streaming service is back on track, is an older and surprisingly larger part of Disney's streaming portfolio about to hit a speed bump?
The Wall Street Journal reports that NBCUniversal parent Comcast (CMCSA -0.57%) is working on a plan that would take back the high-profile content that it makes immediately available on Disney's majority-owned Hulu. One of the things that sets Hulu apart from most premium streaming services is that it offers third-party content the day after new episodes air. The revised deal wouldn't pull all of the Comcast-owned content from the platform, but it will mean that new episodes of high-profile NBC shows including Saturday Night Live and The Voice will no longer stream on Hulu in the fall.
The move may not seem like such a big deal at first. We've seen Netflix (NFLX -0.38%) survive the end of its access to The Office and Friends. However, since Hulu has a relatively thin slate of original programming, the inability to access some of its more popular third-party content could be problematic.
It's easy to see why Comcast is trying to take back more of its iconic content. It launched Peacock two summers ago, and it needs to feed its feathered bird. Peacock isn't exactly a failure, but it has yet to crack the zeitgeist of the golden age of streaming the way that Netflix and Disney have.
The irony is that Comcast is one of the two owners of Hulu. It owns a third of the platform. Disney owns the rest. Disney has the right to acquire Comcast's stake to take full ownership of Hulu by 2024. Removing popular content from Hulu may make Disney more reluctant to swallow it whole in two years -- and that would hurt Comcast, too -- but right now, beefing up its scrawny Peacock service is more important.
Hulu doesn't get the level of attention that Disney+ does in discussions of Disney's growing streaming presence, and that's surprising. Disney+ had 129.8 million subscribers at the end of December, paying an average of $4.41 a month for the service. U.S. subscribers are paying $7.99 a month, but international users paying less and earlier subscribers locked into cheaper multi-year deals drag down that average. It still adds up to roughly $1.7 billion for Disney's fiscal first quarter of 2022, or nearly 8% of the media giant's total revenue mix.
Hulu has a much-smaller audience, but its users are paying a lot more. Hulu's basic platform has 40.9 million subscribers paying an average of $12.96 a month. This works out to nearly $1.6 billion in Disney's latest quarter. However, there's also Hulu + Live TV, the live TV streaming service that is popular with folks trying to replicate the cable or satellite TV experience on the cloud. There are just 4.3 million Hulu + Live TV subscribers, but they're paying a monthly average of $87.01 for access. This works out to more than $1.1 billion in revenue for Disney's latest quarter, so the two Hulu-branded services contributed $2.7 billion, or 12%, of the top-line mix. Yes, Hulu is a much-larger revenue contributor to the media mogul than Disney+, even if the latter is expanding its subscriber base more than twice as fast (up 37% over the past year for Disney+ compared to 15% for Hulu).
Losing key Comcast-owned content probably won't prove fatal for Hulu. It may even convince some Hulu subscribers to upgrade to Hulu + Live TV to gain real-time access to new NBCUniversal programming. However, it's something that investors will want to keep an eye on right now. There are a lot of moving parts to these streaming service stocks, and just because Disney+ is back on track doesn't mean that all is well at the House of Mouse.