Home >Companies >News >KKR, Silver Lake challenge Yahoo for Hulu as bidding escalates

Los Angeles/New York:KKR & Co. and Silver Lake Management LLC are vying with Yahoo Inc. to acquire Hulu LLC, escalating a bidding war that has attracted cable and satellite TV, private equity, a talent agency and media mogul Peter Chernin.

KKR and Silver Lake made separate bids for the Web-video service, people with knowledge of the situation said. Yahoo made its offer on Saturday, according to a person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because the auction is private. The value of the offers wasn’t immediately known.

The entry of Yahoo, which said this week it is buying the blog service Tumblr Inc. for $1.1 billion, brings the number of bidders to at least seven, including the new private-equity suitors. It also underscores the value the parties see in Web streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix Inc. One potential buyer has offered at least $830 million, including about $330 million in assumed debt, one of the people said earlier.

“Video is migrating to the Internet," said Brett Harriss, a Gabelli & Co. analyst in Rye, New York. “Hulu is a great platform to use as a base to build an Internet video business."

Hulu, owned by Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and Comcast Corp., boosted subscription and advertising revenue by 65% to $695 million last year. The Los Angeles-based company’s board, advised by Guggenheim Securities, had set a deadline for bids this week. Guggenheim Digital, an affiliate of the adviser, is among the suitors, people with knowledge of the situation said earlier.

Heating up

Silver Lake, based in Menlo Park, California, is working with William Morris Endeavour Entertainment LLC, the talent agency led by Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, according to the people. The suitors also include DirecTV, Time Warner Cable Inc., Guggenheim Digital and the Chernin Group LLC, the people said. Chernin, as No. 2 executive of News Corp., helped found Hulu six years ago with NBC Universal.

Sara Gorman, a Yahoo spokeswoman, declined to comment, as did officials with KKR and Silver Lake, which owns part of William Morris. Christian Muirhead, a spokesman for William Morris Endeavor, also declined to comment, along with Meredith Kendall, a spokeswoman for Hulu.

Hulu could help Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo, the largest US Web portal, bolster its position in online video advertising, which may command higher rates than banner or search ads. Yahoo’s attempt to buy 75% of Dailymotion, the video site owned by France Telecom SA, stalled in April.

Almost a year into her tenure, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer is using deals, new products and talent acquisitions to transform the company into a more robust competitor to Google Inc. and Facebook Inc.

TV everywhere

Pay-TV companies are interested in Hulu to bolster their TV Everywhere offerings, which let customers watch movies and TV shows on mobile devices.

Hulu has two ad-supported services, one available on computers for free, and Hulu Plus, a $7.99-a-month offering that lets users watch on smartphones and tablets. The paying service has more than 4 million subscribers, according to a company blog post.

DirecTV, based in El Segundo, California, and New York- based Time Warner Cable could package Hulu with their current services in a discounted offering to subscribers, two people said. Hulu could also become part of a growing media portfolio for Guggenheim Partners LLC and its affiliates, which own the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Hollywood Reporter and Dick Clark Productions.

Early mover

“If you believe in the long-term growth drivers of online video, such as fixed and mobile broadband penetration growth, then Hulu looks to be well-positioned with its valuable brand name and early mover advantage," said Paul Sweeney, a Bloomberg Industries analyst.

Comcast’s NBC Universal, Disney and News Corp. each own about one-third of Los Angeles-based Hulu LLC.

Former News Corp. president Chernin had already submitted a bid of at least $500 million, plus the assumption of about $330 million in debt, people with knowledge of the situation said last month. The value of that offer could rise with longer contracts and additional content from Hulu’s current owners. Chernin Group’s investors included Qatar Holding LLC and Providence Equity Partners, an original Hulu investor.

Hulu’s board reached out to potential strategic buyers in March, people with knowledge of the situation said at the time. The controlling owners, Burbank, California-based Disney and Rupert Murdoch’s New York-based News Corp., have disagreed on Hulu’s direction and have discussed buying each other out, the people said.

Hulu considered selling itself in 2011 and halted an auction after potential buyers, including DirecTV, were unwilling to pay enough for an asset without long-term contractual rights to its content. BLOOMBERG

Jodi Xu in New York, and Jonathan Erlichman and Douglas MacMillan in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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