Qatar among bidders for US online TV firm

Some of the world’s biggest media players are seeking to acquire Hulu - report

Qatar is part of one of several high profile bidders battling to take buy US-based online video streaming service Hulu.

The company is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and media giants Walt Disney and Comcost, and the bidding process is set to be one of the most tightly fought deals in the US entertainment world this year.

At least seven bidders have reportedly put forward proposals to acquire Hulu, with some of the bids believed to be as high as $1bn.

Qatar Holding, the Gulf’s state’s sovereign wealth fund, last year invested $100m in US media company the Chernin Group and it is reportedly backing a $830m bid for Hulu, according to the Bloomberg News agency.

The Chernin Group, which has produced film blockbusters such as ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and popular TV sitcom ‘New Girl’, is considered to be one of the strongest proposals as its founder Peter Chernin is a former News Corp president, helped set up Hulu in 2007 and previously sat on its board.

However, the Qatar-backed bid faces some stiff competition, with DirecTV, the cable TV firm owned by the Time Warner media conglomerate, is believed to be one of three bidders who have tabled bids of around $1bn, US media claimed.

Some of the other high profile bidders include Internet company Yahoo! and media firm Guggenheim Digital, which own the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, the Hollywood Reporter media trade newspaper and the popular Dick Clark Productions.

Private equity firm Silver Lake is also believed to have teamed up with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, the influential talent agency which represents A-list names such as Adele, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, Christian Bale, Emma Stone, Hugh Jackman, Robert Redford, John Travolta, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese and popular TV franchises such as Homeland.

While Hulu is believed it have debts of around $350m, it has proved popular and has attracted around four million customers who have paid to watch US network TV programmes.

Set up in 2007 to stream content from Walt Disney’s ABC, Comcast’s NBC and News Corp’s Fox networks, it was devised to help the major US broadcasters benefit from the rise in online advertising.

Disney and News Corp, which is 7 percent owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, are believed to have disagreed on how to best manage the venture, leading to the current auction to sell the business.

Sources told CNBC a decision will be made next month on who will be the successful bidder to acquire Hulu.

Three years ago, Qatar Holding was also part of a successful $663m bid to buy Miramax Films, the movie studio behind films such as Kill Bill, Shakespeare in Love and Chicago.

Qatar has an investment appetite of about $30bn a year and has already picked up stakes in high-profile Western assets such as miner Xstrata, automakers Volkswagen and Porsche, and luxury London retailer Harrods.

A unit of the state's sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Holding was set to launch a new investment firm worth $12bn to purchase assets globally, a top official said in February.

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