Malone says cable companies should make joint bid for Hulu

SUN VALLEY, Idaho, July 11 Thu Jul 11, 2013 1:44pm EDT

SUN VALLEY, Idaho, July 11 (Reuters) - Cable companies should make a joint bid to buy Hulu, the online video site currently conducting an auction, billionaire cable pioneer John Malone said on Thursday.

Joint ownership of Hulu would give cable companies an Internet TV service on a national scale, which would benefit all the operators, said Malone, speaking on the sidelines of the annual Allen & Co media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Time Warner Cable is among three remaining bidders for Hulu, according to media reports. Malone said Time Warner Cable, which has 12 million video customers, would not benefit from owning Hulu on its own because it does not have national reach in the United States.

"Time Warner on their own, if they were the sole owner of Hulu and if that was the end of it, it wouldn't make a lot of sense," he said in an interview. "But if the cable industry were, for instance, to invest in Hulu together in the U.S. or even globally, that would make sense because now you're starting to talk about scale that allows you to do things that you can't do if you're geographically limited."

Malone's Liberty Media owns a 28 percent stake in Charter Communications, the No. 4 U.S. cable operator. He did not say if he wanted Charter to enter the Hulu bidding, but his views carry weight with other media executives.

Hulu is owned by Walt Disney Co, 21st Century Fox and NBC parent Comcast,

Time Warner Cable has offered to make an equity investment in Hulu. That would make Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the cable industry's two largest operators, joint owners, along with Disney and 21st Century Fox.

Comcast is restricted from making business decisions related to Hulu as part of its settlement with the U.S. government when it acquired NBC Universal.

Satellite operator and cable competitor DirecTV has offered more than $1 billion for Hulu.

Former News Corp President Peter Chernin has joined forces with AT&T to also bid for Hulu. AT&T's video operation U-verse is another competitor with cable.