Google searching Hulu for acquisition opportunity? (GOOG)

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is reportedly looking at streaming online television provider Hulu as a potential purchase:

Hulu has begun meeting with potential buyers including Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. to drum up interest in a sale, said these people, who requested anonymity because the discussions are confidential.

The presentations to the potential suitors are a first step as Hulu’s owners weigh whether to sell the site after having received an overture from Yahoo.

Hulu’s financial advisors, Morgan Stanley and Guggenheim Partners, set up the meetings with media, technology and communications companies.

The technology heavyweights are seeking to capitalize on the widespread popularity of online video and position themselves to reach the growing number of viewers who watch television shows, movies and short videos on computers, mobile devices and Internet-connected television sets.

Potential suitors are likely to be less interested in Hulu’s technology and more interested in its licensing agreements:

Key to all three potential suitors are Hulu’s licensing deals for popular TV shows such as “Glee,” “Modern Family” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The lure of these top-rated programs quickly vaulted the 3-year-old service to among the top destinations for online video, with some 28 million monthly viewers, according to the measurement firm comScore.

Two of the media companies behind the online video service, Walt Disney Co. and News Corp., recently renewed licensing agreements to make Hulu more attractive for a sale. Comcast agreed to give up NBCUniversal’s management control in the venture to get approval for its acquisition of a majority stake in the media conglomerate. Comcast is required to provide programming to Hulu on the same terms as the other owners.

How much should investors expect the deal to eventually be worth?

Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible said he expects Hulu’s owners to seek the same valuation for Hulu that Netflix commands from investors, about $2 billion. Hulu earlier scrapped an initial public offering that some investment bankers said could have valued the company at more than $2 billion.

Technology companies may be willing to pay a premium to get the kind of original content that draws advertising from major brands, said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

But Arash Amel, research director for digital media for IHS Screen Digest, says he isn’t sure how much of a premium. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are not buying Hulu’s technology, so they would risk paying through the nose for shows when content deals expire, he said.

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“Google Inc. in preliminary talks to buy Hulu” L.A. Times, 7/1.