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Hulu Inks Disney, 21st Century Fox Deals for Internet TV Service

Hulu officially announced new deals with two of its parents — 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company — for more than 35 networks including ESPN that will be available live and on-demand on Hulu’s forthcoming TV service.

The agreements are really a formality. Indeed, it would be shocking if Hulu rolled out its over-the-top live TV subscription package without the nets of its owners.

Set to debut in early 2017, Hulu’s new TV streaming service will include Fox’s entertainment, news, sports and non-fiction services, as well as Disney’s portfolio of networks from Disney/ABC Television Group and ESPN.

Hulu already has an agreement with Turner to carry its networks in the TV service, as part of Time Warner’s $583 million investment in Hulu for a 10% stake. Comcast is Hulu’s other owner, and NBCUniversal is said to be nearing a deal for its networks to be carried in the Hulu OTT bundle.

“We’re building a service that offers subscribers the most sought-after programming on television — and channels from 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company are essential to that mix,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said in announcing the pacts. “With these two new deals in place, and additional partners to come, Hulu will soon give TV fans of all ages live and on-demand access to their favorite programs in a whole new, more flexible, highly personalized way.”

At this point, Hulu says it’s in discussions with other content owners for the service, which it publicly announced in May. One thorny issue Hulu still needs to hash out: cutting deals with local TV station groups to provide access to live programming on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and other broadcast networks for the service (apart from the markets where ABC and Fox own local affiliates).

The deals with Disney and 21st Century Fox cover broadcast networks Fox and ABC (including live streams of their owned-and-operated TV stations); Fox Sports networks such as the Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and BTN; ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network and ESPN 3; Fox regional sports networks across dozens of markets; Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior; Fox News and Fox Business; Freeform; FX, FXX and FXM, and National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild.

Hulu’s deal with Time Warner covers Turner networks including TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, truTV, Boomerang and Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Hulu has not announced expected pricing for the live TV service — nor has it outlined which channels will actually be offered, and in hat configuration. By the time it debuts, the service will face an increasingly crowded space of providers jockeying to sell lower-priced bundles to users who either don’t subscribe to traditional cable, satellite or telco pay-TV services or are fed up with them.

AT&T is planning to launch DirecTV Now later in November, priced at $35 per month and stocked with more than 100 channels. That will join Dish Network’s Sling TV, which starts even lower at $20 monthly, and Sony’s PlayStation Vue, which has an entry-level package for $40 per month. And Google is getting into the “skinny bundle” race with “YouTube Unplugged,” for which the internet giant recently signed a deal with CBS.

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