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Hulu's owners said to be buying Providence Equity's stake

The reported buyout for about $200 million is expected to give at least two of Hulu's media owners — News Corp. and Disney — a greater ownership stake in the rapidly growing online video service.

April 27, 2012|Los Angeles Times

Providence Equity Partners is selling its stake in online video service Hulu for about $200 million, according to people familiar with the situation.

The move is expected to give at least two of Hulu's media company owners — News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. — a greater ownership stake in the rapidly growing online service. It also would make it easier for the partners to achieve a common strategy for the asset without having a restive investor in the mix.

The 5-year-old service has more than 2 million paid subscribers to its Hulu Plus offering and about 38 million visitors a month to its free site, which offers catch-up episodes of such popular shows as "Glee," "Revenge" and "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

The buyout of the stake held by the private equity firm, first reported by Bloomberg News, would resolve some of the tensions simmering below the surface. The stakeholders have long argued about Hulu's direction and monetization strategy. Nine months ago, the partners considered selling Hulu, but the media companies decided that they should continue to control the online distribution of their content.

But Rhode Island-based Providence Equity made it clear that it wanted to cash out its stake.

The deal would allow Providence to double its $100-million investment. People close to the situation, who asked not to be identified because no agreement has been finalized, said the media companies have a "handshake agreement" to pay Providence Equity as much as $200 million for its 10% stake. However, these people said, the overall valuation of Hulu would be less than $2 billion. The partners instead agreed to pay Providence a premium on its investment.

Providence invested in 2007 to help founding companies News Corp. and NBCUniversal launch the site. Disney came aboard in 2009.

Hulu's ownership structure has been complicated by NBCUniversal's stake. Although the media company helped create Hulu, NBCUniversal's new controlling owner — Comcast Corp. — agreed to give up NBCUniversal's seats on the Hulu board and any voice in its management as part of a 2011 settlement with federal regulators. The government was concerned that Comcast might use its interest in Hulu to stymie the development of an online video service that competes with Comcast's core business of providing bundles of television channels to consumers.

The agreement being worked out would allow the vesting of some shares held by Hulu's chief executive, Jason Kilar, and other ranking managers. However, one person close to Hulu said Kilar is expected to stay on, at least in the short term, to run the company.

Hulu and Providence Equity declined to comment.

The news comes in the same week that Providence said it would invest $200 million in Peter Chernin's entertainment company, Chernin Group. Chernin was one of the architects of Hulu when he was president of News Corp., and he brokered the deal to include Providence Equity in the ownership structure. In addition, Chernin was named a senior advisor to Providence Equity.

Chernin declined to comment.

meg.james@latimes.com

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