The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece this week, detailing Brian Roberts and Bob Iger’s multiyear battle over their joint custody of Hulu—an uneasy marriage, as Jessica Toonkel and Amol Sharma put it, that Disney and Comcast are working to bring to an end. Among their disputes is an arbitration case over why Disney, Hulu’s majority owner, never expanded the streamer outside the U.S.
The decades-long competition between Roberts and Iger is less of blood feud, as I see it, than it is an elaborate negotiation between two titans of the media industry who have been punching and counter-punching for years. After years of M&A deals—a Wall Street banker’s dream of course—the market value of both companies is surprisingly similar. Comcast, at $165 billion, is slightly larger this week than Disney, at $162 billion. Disney’s stock has been flat in 2023, despite the heralded return of Iger as C.E.O. It’s been a better year, in Philadelphia, where the Comcast stock is up 11 percent year-to-date. It’s also fairly remarkable after the decades of deals, how similar Disney and Comcast are, asset-wise. They both have a shrinking linear TV business (Disney has ABC, Comcast has NBC); money-losing streaming businesses (Disney+ and Peacock); large movie studios (although Disney’s is far larger and more diverse); and large theme park businesses that are helping to keep the rest of the company afloat financially.
There are differences, too, of course. Comcast has a massive cable business—the pipes to our homes—while Disney has a cruise-ship business. Disney, no doubt, is probably more than a little pleased not to have the Sky Group, the struggling British media and telecom company that Comcast bought in 2018 for $39 billion, after outbidding Rupert Murdoch and Fox. I also suppose that Disney would like to solve its ESPN problem. (It’s trying by suggesting it will create a separate, direct-to-consumer ESPN streaming service; as I wrote last week, I think that’s going to be tough to pull off.)