Bye-bye Marvel? Hulu’s new live TV service has Disney CEO rethinking Netflix deals

disney ceo bob iger positive on hulu live tv walt
Flickr/Thomas Hawk
Earlier this month, both Hulu and YouTube announced plans within days of each other to launch live-streaming internet TV services in 2017. While this might have seemed an odd move for YouTube, it almost seemed a given for Hulu, given that three of the companies expected to be licensing content to the new service — Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal — are also co-owners of the streamer.

Apparently being a co-owner of Hulu isn’t without its privileges, as Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said at the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit on Wednesday that Disney has already had a first look at the upcoming service, as reported by Variety. Details were scarce, but Iger did say that the user interface for the new service, which is now expected to cost $30 per month as opposed to the originally reported $40, was “tremendous.”

Iger generally seemed positive about all aspects of Hulu’s upcoming pay-TV service, saying that it “will keep legacy distributors more honest.” This doesn’t only relate to the deals distributors make with companies like Disney and others, but also keeping their user interfaces up to date and competitive with future offerings from newer competitors. Iger also said that, as far as Disney is concerned, new providers are “basically more mouths to feed” for the company’s programming.

This leaves the lingering question of whether Disney will continue to provide content to Netflix, Amazon and others, when it could instead opt for a company it has a stake in. The latter could mean a serious blow for Netflix, which licenses a huge swath series from Disney’s Marvel properties, including current series like Daredevil and Jessica Jones and future series like Luke Cage and Iron Fist, but also is the exclusive U.S. licensee of future properties in Disney’s new Star Wars universe.

Iger said that for the short-term, Disney will continue to license its shows and movies to third parties, adding that whether or not the company would continue to do so in the longer term was unclear.

Iger also addressed concerns over ESPN’s decline in subscriber numbers by pointing to the future. “In the United States today, you can’t launch a new multichannel bundle successfully without ESPN,” he said, specifically pointing to Sony’s PlayStation Vue service, adding that the service’s subscriber numbers “have gone up significantly” since adding ESPN to its core Slim bundle.

While Iger was positive, his remarks followed the second fiscal quarter in 2016 in which Disney’s earnings didn’t live up to Wall Street expectations. “We don’t stop, we don’t pause, it doesn’t cause us to do anything different,” he said, adding that “If you’re running a company like this, you can’t possibly run it with a great focus on quarterly results.”

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