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NBCUniversal nixes Hulu content deal as media companies claw back shows for streaming

A "Saturday Night Live" sketch with Bowen Yang wearing all-white.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Bowen Yang, left, and Colin Jost.
(Will Heath / NBC)
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Call it the great streaming content claw-back.

NBCUniversal has terminated its agreement to license shows to Walt Disney Co.-controlled Hulu, an NBCU spokesperson confirmed Friday. Starting this fall, episodes of shows such as “Saturday Night Live” and “The Voice” will no longer stream on the service the day after they air.

The end of the agreement was expected. The Wall Street Journal in February reported that the deal was coming to a conclusion.

NBCUniversal’s parent Comcast still owns 33% of Hulu, while Disney holds the rest and has operating control of the service. Hulu is part of Disney’s growing streaming business, which also includes Disney+ and ESPN+. But NBCUniversal has continued to effectively send shows to its rival.

Announced Friday, Disney did not disclose pricing for the ad-supported tier, which is meant to help Disney+ reach subscriber goals.

March 4, 2022

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The nixing of the content deal comes as Comcast tries to grow its own streaming service, Peacock, which launched in 2020. Peacock has 9 million paying subscribers and 24.5 million monthly active accounts, Comcast said in January. Hulu has 45.3 million subscribers, including people who pay for a bundle of live TV channels through the service. Disney+ has 130 million global subscribers.

Hulu still has the rights to stream older movies and shows from NBCUniversal’s catalog, including “Law & Order SVU,” “30 Rock,” “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights,” according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment. Those rights are locked up for several years.

Like other streaming services, Hulu is focusing on investing in its own content rather than licensing it from others, with recent shows like “Only Murders in the Building” and “Dopesick” and movies such as the Oscar-nominated documentary “Summer of Soul.”

“As a leading destination for breakthrough storytelling, we continue to transform Hulu into an exclusive home for stories from across The Walt Disney Company and beyond to bring our viewers even more premium content led by Hulu Originals and next-day television programming,” said a Hulu spokesperson in a statement.

NBCUniversal’s move is part of a larger media industry trend in which studios and networks pull shows and movies they’ve licensed to rivals and use them to grow their own direct-to-consumer platforms.

Disney this week said it would be putting Marvel shows such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” on Disney+ March 16. Those shows had previously streamed on Netflix.

Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS) recently said the long-running Comedy Central cartoon satire “South Park” would stream exclusively on Paramount+ in 2025. The show currently streams on competitor WarnerMedia’s HBO Max through a deal valued at $500 million.

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Peacock itself is benefiting from popular content licensed from a rival. “Yellowstone,” which airs on Paramount Global’s Paramount Network cable channel, streams new episodes on Peacock rather than Paramount+.

Disney+ adds 12 million subscribers in the first quarter, significantly exceeding analysts’ expectations, and its stock rises 8%.

Feb. 9, 2022

Peacock also is growing its slate of original content, having launched its “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” revival, “Bel-Air,” in February. It also recently premiered “Joe vs. Carole,” a fictional dramatization of the feud between “Tiger King’s” Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin.

The app, which charges $5 a month for its ad-supported premium tier and $10 a month for its commercial-free version, has also benefited from coverage of sporting events such as the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the Super Bowl, in which the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals. Peacock also has a free version with less content.

Disney on Friday said it is launching a cheaper ad-supported version of Disney+ that will debut in the U.S. late this year and expand internationally in 2023. The ad-free service, which premiered in November 2019, costs $8 a month.

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