Video streaming service Hulu is determined to sell itself to the highest bidder, and The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) that Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and DirecTV are expected to be the main contenders for the service, with initial bids ranging from $500 million all the way up to $2 billion. Although no bids have been made yet, the paper reports that initial bids on the service are due Wednesday, August 24, although those early bids will likely run a range of prices varying with what programming Hulu is able to put on the table and how long key content distribution agreements would last.
Hulu started talking seriously about putting itself up for sale back in June, with exclusive access to video programming quickly emerging as a key factor in its potential valuation. The longer Hulu can offer potential buyers exclusive access to popular programming, the more valuable the company becomes.
Initial reports put Microsoft in the group of companies initially interested in Hulu, but the Redmond firm will reportedly decline to participate in the first round of bids. Rumors next focused on Apple—although most industry watchers agree Hulu’s business model is a poor fit with Apple’s—and then Google emerged as a leading Hulu acquisition candidate.
It’s not clear how a new owner will be able to leverage Hulu into a more-profitable business, particularly since it will likely have to negotiate for access to content from a position outside the television industry. Hulu’s major owners are currently NBC Universal/Comcast, Fox, and ABC, and they’re already balking at making their content available on Hulu in a timely manner. Where Hulu used to offer many shows within a day of their broadcast airing, Fox recently pulled its shows back to eight days after their original airdate, and many cable shows are even further out—many won’t become available on Hulu until after their current broadcast seasons conclude. Hulu might be able to get television programming to subscribers more quickly than Netflix—which often has to wait for DVD releases and sit through exclusivity windows—but it’s not clear that offering some programming a little sooner than Netflix will be a compelling business case for potential Hulu suitors.