Disney may be trying to buy more of Hulu from AT&T's WarnerMedia

Disney was already poised to control Hulu after it completes its takeover of 21st Century Fox.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

Hulu is owned by Disney, Comcast, Fox and AT&T. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Disney may be angling for even more control of Hulu

Disney is holding talks with AT&T to buy the 10 percent stake in the streaming service that the carrier holds through its WarnerMedia unit, according to a report by Variety, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the discussions. 

That raises the potential of Disney controlling 70 percent of Hulu, up from its current 30 percent stake, and it would leave  Comcast as the only other owner. 

AT&T, Hulu and WarnerMedia declined to comment, and Disney didn't respond to requests for comment. 

The report comes as Disney is on a path toward streaming as a central focus of its business. The company is poised to take over 21st Century Fox , a move meant to gird Disney for battle against deep-pocketed tech competitors pouring money into TV and movies , like Netflix, Amazon and even Apple . That Fox deal would essentially double Disney's share of Hulu to 60 percent. 

Meanwhile, Disney is preparing to launch its own streaming video service to rival Netflix. Called Disney+, it'll include new original series from its Star Wars and Marvel franchises, as well as access to Disney's deep back catalog. 

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To understand Hulu's parentage, prepare yourself for a complicated family tree: Disney, Comcast and 21st Century Fox all held equal shares in Hulu for years, with Time Warner joining the group in 2016 when it bought a 10 percent stake in the streaming service. Since then, AT&T gobbled up Time Warner -- the parent company of TV networks like HBO and CNN -- and refashioned it as WarnerMedia. That passed Time Warner's minority stake in Hulu to AT&T. And, again, Disney was already on track to boost its share of Hulu from 30 percent to 60 percent by virtue of its pending deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox.

Meanwhile, Comcast was essentially a silent partner in Hulu for many years, as part of an agreement Comcast struck in order to cinch its own deal to take over NBCUniversal back in 2009. That restraint finally lifted last year, allowing Comcast to take a more active role in Hulu's direction. 

So, yeah, it's complicated. 

But Disney's potential interest in further control over Hulu, one of the most popular streaming services in the US, reiterates the company's newfound desire to become a force in subscription online video. Disney CEO Bob Iger has called the Disney+ service the company's "biggest priority" for 2019, and Disney plans to make Hulu its online homebase for edgier, more adult-oriented programming.