LOS ANGELES — Hulu owners Walt Disney Co., Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Inc. have called off their sale of the video-streaming service and will instead invest $750 million in the company.
The decision ends an auction that attracted bids from suitors including DirecTV, Time Warner Cable Inc., and Peter Chernin with AT&T Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said. The owners announced their decision in a statement Friday.
The growing popularity of streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu may have persuaded the owners, all media companies with TV and film libraries, to keep the fast-growing service. Hulu has 30 million unique monthly visitors, annual revenue that doubled to $690 million last year and more than 4 million paying subscribers.
"Hulu has an incredible set of apps and distribution that the networks just can't duplicate, it never made sense to sell to a distributor," said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG. "We are very pleased and advocated the owners hold onto Hulu from the very beginning."
Justin Venech, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner Cable, declined to comment, as did Robert Mercer, with El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite TV service. Charles Sipkins, a spokesman for Chernin, also declined to comment.
The cash infusion will allow the company to acquire additional programming in competition for subscribers with Netflix and Amazon.com Inc.
"Hulu has emerged as one of the most consumer friendly, technologically innovative viewing platforms in the digital era," Robert Iger, Disney's chairman and chief executive officer, said in the statement. "As its evolution continues, Disney and its partners are committing resources to enable Hulu to achieve its maximum potential."
The canceled auction wasn't the first time Hulu's owners had a change of heart. They put the site up for sale in June 2011 and called it off in October. The service never advanced a planned IPO in 2010 that envisioned a $2 billion valuation.
The current auction stemmed from disagreements over Hulu's direction between Disney and Fox, which control the company, and had each considered buying the other out. Comcast is barred from an operational role because of conditions placed on its purchase of NBCUniversal.
Suitors this time around were forced to weigh possible restrictions on future streaming rights.
Michael Eisner, former chairman of Disney, predicted this week that a buyer would lose next-day rights to television shows that the service now enjoys.
"If it is bought by a content-oriented production kind of company, it will then move from a company that is basically repeat broadcasting to original broadcasting," Eisner, 71, said at Allen & Co.'s conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. "That is very expensive."