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AT&T sells back stake in Hulu, leaving Disney and Comcast as remaining owners

The deal values Hulu at $15 billion.

Hulu has been adding subscribers but remains much smaller than rival Netflix.  
Sarah Tew/CNET

AT&T has sold its stake in Hulu back to the streaming service, leaving the joint venture's ownership to Disney and Comcast in a deal that values Hulu at $15 billion. 

"We thank AT&T for their support and investment over the past two years and look forward to collaboration in the future," Hulu CEO Randy Freer said in a statement. "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 kicked off this year with four parent companies and it has quickly whittled down its parents to just two. Previously, AT&T held 10% through its takeover of Time Warner, now called WarnerMedia, while Disney, 21st Century Fox and Comcast each owned 30%.  But with Disney combining with 21st Century Fox earlier this year in a $71.3 billion deal, and with AT&T now selling back its stake, Hulu's owners are reduced to Comcast and Disney, the latter of which holds a controlling share. 

The Hulu news comes days after Disney outlined an aggressive plan for streaming services like Hulu and a forthcoming Netflix-like offer called Disney Plus. Disney presented Hulu as a key companion service to Disney Plus, even noting that it planned to bundle Disney Plus and Hulu at a discount. But Disney noted throughout its presentation that it couldn't unilaterally decide Hulu's future even though it already holds 60% control.  

AT&T divesting itself of Hulu is sure to spur speculation on two fronts. The deal will heighten expectations that Disney may make a play for Comcast's minority stake in Hulu, which would bring Hulu under Disney's full control. And it could also raise suspicions that AT&T is circling its wagons around its own content as it prepares to launch of its own streaming service early next year. 

Hulu has more than 25 million subscribers, operating only in the US. Netflix, by comparison, had nearly 140 million subscribers worldwide at the end of last year. 

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