Summary:

Not everyone believes that Hulu will file for its much-anticipated IPO next year. As one of his top five predictions for 2011, Metacafe CEO Erick Hachenburg suggests Hulu might not go public after all, but could be acquired by Comcast instead.

metacafe

Mark this up as just one person’s crazy prediction, but it’s interesting nonetheless: Metacafe CEO Erick Hachenburg thinks Hulu will abandon its much-anticipated IPO plans, and will be acquired by Comcast instead. That forecast is from a video that Hachenburg posted — where else? — on Metacafe Wednesday, and strikes us as an outcome that is not likely to come true.

Most of what Hachenburg thinks will come to pass is pretty boring — YouTube will be the top video ad network, advertisers will realize young people aren’t watching TV, etc. — but somewhere along the line he comes up with this:

“Everyone’s talking about Hulu’s IPO next year, but I think the big news next year is that Hulu is going to abort its IPO. The reason it’s going to abort is that you have three networks that are all going to have different interests in mind, and you have Comcast entering the space. The likely outcome is Comcast is going to buy Hulu before the IPO happens.”

While we agree Hulu has a potentially complicated future ahead — and could, in fact, pass on an IPO — the suggestion that Comcast would purchase Hulu seems a bit problematic, for a number of reasons. For one thing, Comcast is fighting against regulatory scrutiny of its plan to merge its cable networks with NBC Universal.

Some critics of the deal have questioned the effect that a Comcast-NBC combination would have on the future of online video, and some have even suggested that certain restrictions are placed on Comcast before the deal is allowed to go through. That could include NBC having to give up its stake in Hulu, for instance, or requiring the new entity to ensure its content will be available online to competing pay TV operators. The last thing Comcast wants to do right now is rock the boat or appear to have too much of an interest in controlling the emerging online video ecosystem.

As for Hulu’s IPO: It’s clear the online video company has ambitions to go public, but those plans will be dependent in part on its ability to strike deals with its broadcast content partners, who just happen to also be its major stakeholders. According to reports, Hulu’s broadcast content deals end next year, so its independence will rely on locking down their content for some time. But as Hachenberg alludes, NBC, Fox and ABC all have differing opinions on the value of Hulu and their own plans for their content going forward.

Hulu has declined comment, with a spokesperson saying the company doesn’t talk about its capital plans. Comcast, meanwhile, couldn’t be reached. As for Hachenburg, we’ve reached out for more context for why he thinks Hulu will be acquired by Comcast, and will update this post when we hear back.

Updated: And here’s Hachenburg’s response for clarification:

“The core issue is that Hulu is first and foremost about free TV, while Comcast is the single largest advocate of pay TV – as illustrated by its commitment to its TV Everywhere initiative (Xfinity). With the NBC Universal acquisition, Comcast is now an owner of the leading free TV provider in the market. It’s hard to imagine that Comcast would have entered the Hulu joint venture at its inception, but this is now where they find themselves. So they’ll need an elegant solution – such as buying Hulu outright – to put the issue to bed.

Additionally, the reality is the three broadcast TV networks behind Hulu have been surprised by Hulu’s success and now face the prospect of being long-term partners with their rival networks. If Hulu become beholden to its public shareholders, the networks would lose much of their control – which has to be scary for them.

Of course, Hulu does have a single private investor, who most likely would like to see an exit path for Hulu. A Comcast buyout is a win-win-win.”

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