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Media owners keep Hulu website, may bring in partners

By Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc and Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal said on Friday they decided to keep their video streaming website, Hulu, and will invest $750 million to help it grow.

Hulu's owners are still talking to companies that could become partners for the service, a source with knowledge of the discussions said. One is Time Warner Cable Inc, which had offered to make an equity investment in Hulu, two sources told Reuters. The role of future partners has not been determined.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Justin Venech had no comment. Disney spokesman Kevin Brockman and Fox spokesman Dan Berger had no comment beyond the companies' statement.

This is the second time the media companies have decided against selling Hulu. They had collected bids from parties including satellite provider DirecTV and former News Corp president Peter Chernin, sources had previously told Reuters. DirecTV had offered more than $1 billion for Hulu, sources said.

The first time they weighed selling Hulu was in 2011.

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.

Hulu, launched in 2008, attracts more than 30 million unique monthly visitors, the companies said. The service has more than 4 million subscribers and generates revenue of about $700 million through subscriptions and a free ad-supported service.

In a statement on Friday, Chase Carey, Fox's president and chief operating officer, said Hulu's owners "had meaningful conversations with a number of potential partners and buyers, each with impressive plans and offers to match."

"But with 21st Century Fox and Disney fully aligned in our collective vision and goals for the business, we decided to continue to empower the Hulu team," Carey said.

After mulling the bids, the owners decided to put more money in to Hulu to expand a business that attracts customers who watch TV shows and movies increasingly through Internet-connected televisions and mobile devices. Hulu competes with services such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc's Prime Instant Video service.

"Hulu has emerged as one of the most consumer friendly, technologically innovative viewing platforms in the digital era," Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said in a statement.

Disney shares closed 0.6 percent higher at $66.98 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. Fox shares gained 0.8 percent to close at $30.19, and Comcast shares climbed 0.5 percent to $44.68, both on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Chandni Doulatramani in Bangalore; editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Ken Barry, David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)

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