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Fox and Disney want to sell their own web TV bundle, via Hulu, for $40 a month

Which means the TV networks are now going to compete with their customers -- pay TV distributors like Comcast.

FOX via Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The TV industry has been waiting — and waiting — for big, deep-pocketed tech giants like Apple and Amazon to start competing with the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable by selling their own “over the top” bundles of TV channels.

Turns out the TV networks — the ones who sell their programming to Comcast and Time Warner Cable — think that’s a good idea, too.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Hulu is planning a new web subscription service that would sell live and on-demand programming from the likes of ESPN, ABC, Fox and FX for about $40 a month, starting early next year.

On the one hand, this sounds like a lot of “skinny bundle” web TV packages that people have been trying to put together for some time — and Dish’s Sling TV actually offers.

On the other hand, this one is different from all of the other web TV packages that people have been trying to put together — because this one is being created by the people who make and sell TV.

That is: Disney and 21st Century Fox — which own two-thirds of Hulu and control its management* — want to sell a service that competes directly with the pay TV distributors who are their most important customers.

That means if you want to watch “Empire” and the college football playoffs on ESPN, or the other big-ticket programming the networks control, you no longer have to get it from traditional pay TV distributors like Comcast. You can get it from the networks themselves.

You can absolutely bet that the Comcasts of the world** won’t like that, just like they didn’t like it when HBO announced that it was going to sell itself directly over the web, without a pay TV subscription, last year.

And just like HBO did, look for Disney, Fox and their proxies at Hulu to argue that they’re not trying to offer a service that competes with Comcast and other traditional pay TV bundlers — they’re going after people who’ve already stopped subscribing to pay TV or never signed up in the first place.

But it doesn’t matter what the TV guys say. The fact is, they’re now willing to fight with their customers for consumers’ subscription dollars, which tells you just how unsettled the TV business has become.

The truth is that wholesaling programming to the likes of Comcast has been a great business for the TV guys, and that selling directly to consumers is a brave new world for them. The much safer bet would have been to keep selling to Comcast, as well as Dish, Apple, Amazon and anyone else who showed up with a big checkbook.

And the TV guys will happily keep selling that way, too. But they’re also going to compete with their best customers — and their new ones.

* Comcast owns the other third of Hulu but doesn’t have a role in its management, because of rules Comcast agreed to follow when it bought NBCUniversal.

** Comcast, via its NBCUniversal unit, is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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