Hulu is readying an initial public offering that would value the company at $2 billion according to anonymous sources briefed on the matter that snitched to the New York Times.
That probably means Hulu’s leadership wants to start the rumor mill (who else would leak this?), in order to A) genuinely stoke interest among investment banks for an IPO B) stay in the headlines to pump up the perceived value among content producers to wring better deal terms from them C) pump up its perceived value among private investors for another round of financing or D) some combination of the above.
There are several reasons Hulu could make for a shaky public company, the main one being that it's a precarious alliance of competing kingdoms. News Corp., Walt Disney, and NBC Universal launched it with a private equity firm, Providence Equity Partners three years ago to combat YouTube in a bid for online eyeballs and ad dollars. It did outperform many tech pundits intial expectations. At the start, Mike Arrington adopted the alias "Clown Co." for the then-unnamed venture, suggesting the old media companies were in over their heads trying to beat YouTube on its own turf. The company went on to surpass YouTube's ad revenue within the span of three years. ComScore says Hulu served more than double the amount of ads as YouTube in June, and it demands much higher rates per ad, given its professional content.
But in warfare, alliances only last as long as there is a common enemy. In 2007, Big Media needed to get online, and they needed to band together. They weren’t tech companies, they were clueless about this Internet thing, and they needed someone to hold their hand. In came Jason Kilar, a former Amazon executive, to show them the ropes and lead Big Media into New Media.
Fast forward three years. Big Media has gotten used to the new tools of warfare. They know to hire developers. They know to stream videos on their own sites. They know that they need to be available on the latest gadgets; ABC launched an iPad application as soon as Apple released the device. They learned to make more money than the enemy. Now there’s a real threat the members of the alliance will turn their new military prowess on each other. In fact, just this March Viacom pulled the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, two of Hulu’s most popular offerings, from the site, saying the revenues just weren’t worthwhile. Viacom was not and is not invested in site, so its judgment may be a better gauge of just how much revenue Hulu can bring to content providers.
Hulu may realize its about to peak, the IPO window is cracked open (Tesla just did it, Demand Media and GM are getting ready…), and a public offering is now or never.
The company is said to be modestly profitable, with total revenues for 2009 reported at $100 million, and is currently testing a paid subscription model that will cost $9.99 per month.