Hulu (/ˈhuːluː/) is a U.S.-based subscription video on demand service fully controlled and majority-owned by Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, a business segment of The Walt Disney Company, with Comcast's NBCUniversal as an equity stakeholder owning 33%.
The service was initially established as a joint venture between News Corporation and NBC Universal, Providence Equity Partners, and later Walt Disney, serving as an aggregation of recent episodes of television series from their respective television networks. In 2010, Hulu launched a subscription service, initially branded as Hulu Plus, which featured full seasons of programs from the companies and other partners, and undelayed access to new episodes. In 2017, the company launched Hulu with Live TV—an over-the-top IPTV service featuring linear television channels. Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) later held a stake in the service. As of the first quarter of 2019, Hulu had 28 million subscribers.
In March 2019, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox, giving it a 60% majority stake in Hulu. AT&T (which acquired Time Warner in 2018) sold back its roughly 10% stake the following month. Comcast, the only other shareholder, announced on May 14, 2019, that it had agreed to cede its control to Disney, and reached an agreement for Disney to purchase its 33% stake in the company as early as 2024. Hulu will be operated as a bridge brand alongside Disney's fellow OTT ventures Disney+ and ESPN+, with Hulu positioned as its streaming brand for general entertainment outside of Disney's family-oriented studios and properties.
Key executives instrumental in the founding of Hulu include Bruce Campbell, Peter Chernin, JB Perrette, Michael Lang, Beth Comstock and Jason Kilar. The venture was announced in March 2006 with AOL, NBC Universal, now Comcast, Facebook, MSN, Myspace, and Yahoo! planned as "initial distribution partners". Jason Kilar was named Hulu CEO in late 2007.
The name Hulu was chosen in late August 2007, when the website went live, with an announcement only and no content. It invited users to leave their email addresses for the upcoming beta test. In October 2007, Hulu began the private beta testing by invitation, and later allowed users to invite friends. Hulu launched for public access in the United States on March 12, 2008. The first product to launch was the HULU Syndication network, which was designed and developed by the NBC Universal team from New York, on October 29, 2007, followed by the Hulu.com destinations site.
Hulu began an advertising campaign during NBC's broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII with an initial ad starring Alec Baldwin titled "Alec in Huluwood". The ad intended to humorously reveal "the shocking secret behind Hulu", portraying the site as being an "evil plot to destroy the world" by suggesting that Baldwin is really an alien in disguise. Advertisements have since aired featuring Eliza Dushku, Seth MacFarlane, Denis Leary, and Will Arnett.
In July 2007, Providence Equity Partners, the owner of Newport Television, became one of the earliest "outside" investors by purchasing a 10 percent stake in the company for US$ 100 million equity investment, before the company was known as "Hulu". With its investment came a seat on the board of directors, where Providence was said to act as an "independent voice on the board". In April 2009, The Walt Disney Company joined the Hulu consortium as a stakeholder, with plans to offer content from ABC and Disney Channel.
In October 2012, Providence sold its 10 percent stake to "Hulu's media owners" and ceased participation in the board.
Early in 2010, Hulu chief executive Jason Kilar said the service had made a profit in two quarters and that the company could top $100 million in revenue by summer 2010, more than its income for all of 2009.
On June 21, 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that an "unsolicited offer" caused Hulu to begin "weighing whether to sell itself". However, on October 13, 2011, Hulu and its owners announced that they would not sell the company, as none of the bidders offered an amount that was satisfactory to its owners.
Hulu generated $420 million in revenue in 2011, $80 million short of the company's target. The vacant CEO post was officially filled by former Fox Networks President Mike Hopkins on October 17, 2013. Fox Networks Group COO Randy Freer was named CEO on October 24, 2017.
In December 2017, Disney announced that they would acquire 21st Century Fox, including its 30% stake in Hulu, in a sale completed on March 20, 2019. The deal resulted in Disney having a controlling 60% interest in Hulu.
On April 15, 2019, AT&T (via WarnerMedia) sold its 9.5% stake in Hulu back to the company for $1.43 billion. WarnerMedia plans to launch its own competing service featuring content from its Entertainment networks.
On May 14, 2019, Comcast relinquished its control in Hulu to Disney effective immediately.
During its upfronts, NBCUniversal had announced its intent to launch its own ad-supported streaming service featuring new and library content: NBCU CEO Steve Burke explained that these arrangements "will generate significant cash flow for us, while giving us maximum flexibility to program and distribute to our own direct-to-consumer platform, as we build that business". Disney stated that its control of Hulu was the third major component of its direct-to-consumer strategy, complimenting ESPN+ and its forthcoming Disney+ service. Disney+ will focus specifically on family-friendly content from Disney's studios (not carrying "R-rated" content), while ESPN+ would focus on sports programming and Hulu would remain oriented towards "general" entertainment. In the wake of the deal, Disney CEO Bob Iger explained that direct integration of Hulu with Disney's studios would allow it to "make the service even more compelling and a greater value for consumers" Freer said with Disney overseeing the service, “investment in original programming will increase significantly.”
On July 31, 2019, Disney reorganized Hulu's reporting structure, placing Hulu's Scripted Originals team under Walt Disney Television. Under the new structure, Hulu's SVP of Original Scripted Content would report directly to the chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment.
On August 6, 2019, Disney announced that it will offer a bundle of the ad-supported Hulu with Disney+ and ESPN+ for US$12.99 per-month. The bundle will be available on November 12, the same day of the launch of Disney+.
Following the start of its service, Hulu signed deals with several new content providers making additional material available to consumers.
Starting August 15, 2011, viewers of content from Fox and related networks are required to authenticate paid cable or satellite service wherever Fox streams episodes, including on Hulu, to be able to watch them the morning after the first airing.
On October 28, 2011, Hulu announced that they had inked a five-year deal with The CW, giving the streaming site access to next-day content from five of the six major networks. On September 18, 2013, Hulu announced a multi-year deal with the BBC that will deliver 2,000 episodes from 144 different titles in the first 12 months.
In 2015, Hulu began offering content from Showtime for an additional $8.99/month, which is cheaper than Showtime's own streaming service. On June 16, 2016, Hulu announced a deal with the Disney-ABC Television Group for the exclusive SVOD rights to past seasons of seven Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD series, and more than 20 Disney Channel original movies.
On September 18, 2016, all content from The CW was removed from Hulu, as The CW's own website and apps became the exclusive portals for streaming their shows during the current season, with Netflix becoming the exclusive streaming provider for The CW shows post-current season. As of January 2017, a limited amount of content from CBS's library is available on-demand, mostly limited to shows that are no longer producing new episodes. On January 4, 2017, it was reported that a deal was reached to bring live broadcasts of CBS and several affiliated channels to Hulu's upcoming live streaming service as well as to make more shows available on-demand.
In April 2018, Hulu announced a partnership with Spotify that allows users to purchase both streaming services for a discounted price per month. This discount also includes an even more discounted rate for university students.
At an industry conference held on October 21, 2009, News Corporation Deputy Chairman Chase Carey stated that Hulu "needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business" and that it would likely start charging for at least some content by 2010. Carey's comment jibes with other News Corp. heads, including Rupert Murdoch who has expressed a desire to charge for content with a number of online units.
Hulu's subscription service was launched in beta (preview) on June 29, 2010, and officially launched on November 17, 2010 under the branding Hulu Plus. The service remains advertising-supported, but it offers an expanded content library including full seasons, day-after access to current season content and more episodes of shows available. Hulu also launched Hulu Plus apps on other types of devices, including mobile, digital media players, and video game consoles. By the end of 2011, Hulu Plus had around 1.5 million subscribers.
On April 29, 2015, it was announced that the "Hulu Plus" branding would be discontinued, and that the service would be henceforth marketed as simply "Hulu" to place it in-line with its subscription-only competitors.
The Wall Street Journal reported in July 2015 that Hulu was exploring an advertising-free subscription option for around $12 to $14 a month. This was confirmed as going forward as of September 2, 2015, with a "No Commercials" plan priced at $11.99, $4 more than the $7.99 monthly rate for a "Limited Commercials" subscription, though a few highlighted network series (less than 10) would retain pre-roll and post-roll ad pods. Starting in 2019, Hulu plans to begin displaying on-screen ads when the viewer pauses the show, although it is unclear whether this will apply to customers on the $11.99/month No Ads plan.
On August 8, 2016, Hulu announced that it would discontinue its free video on-demand content, and syndicate it to Yahoo! on a new website known as Yahoo! View. This service features recent episodes of ABC, Fox, and NBC series. The Hulu website is now devoted exclusively to the subscription service.
In May 2018 Hulu introduced 5.1 surround sound for their original content. In December 2016 Hulu began streaming content in 4K. 4K video was quietly rolled back in 2018, and reintroduced in July 2019.
On January 23, 2019, Hulu announced a $2 price drop for the basic ad-supported plan to $5.99.
In May 2016, Hulu announced that it planned to begin offering an over-the-top IPTV service with "live programming from broadcast and cable brands" some time in 2017. In late 2016, co-owners 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company agreed to supply their channels to the streaming service, joined by Time Warner, which previously reached an agreement with Hulu.
The service, marketed only as "Hulu with Live TV", which couples the live TV offerings with Hulu's existing library of television series and films, launched in beta on May 3, 2017. The $44.99-per-month service – which provides support for Xbox One, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices – offers live streams of more than 50 broadcast and cable-originated channels, including feeds of the five major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW – as well as cable channels owned by Hulu co-parents NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company, along with CBS Corporation, Turner Broadcasting System, Scripps Networks Interactive and A+E Networks (encompassing networks such as CNN, Food Network, Disney Channel, A&E, MSNBC and ESPN), with the Showtime OTT service available as an add-on for an extra fee. Hulu representatives stated that it intends to negotiate carriage agreements with independently owned broadcasting groups to gain distribution rights to local stations from additional markets. Features include the ability to create up of six user account profiles per a single subscription (with personalized program recommendations based on a user's favorite programs and varying simultaneous streams depending on the package), personalized sports recommendations and a cloud DVR with between 50 and 200 hours of storage depending on the level of service (the lower-tier DVR does not have ad skipping functionality).
Viewership numbers for the site are tracked by measurement firms such as ComScore, Nielsen ratings, and Quantcast. In partnership with comScore, Hulu is the first digital company to receive multi-platform measurement at an individual level that includes co-viewing for living room devices. When factoring this in, Hulu's reach among adults aged 18–49 increases 50 percent.
However, the reliability of these metrics has been drawn into question, partly due to widely divergent estimates.
Hulu in May 2018 announced it has surpassed 20 million subscribers in the United States. The tally, which puts the company about 36 million subscriptions behind Netflix, was disclosed at a media presentation at the newly named Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Hulu distributes video on its own website and syndicates its hosting to other sites, and allows users to embed Hulu clips on their websites. In addition to NBC, ABC and Fox programs and movies, Hulu carries shows from networks such as A&E, Big Ten Network, Bravo, E!, Fox Sports 2, FX, PBS, NFL Network, Oxygen, RT America, Fox Sports 1, Esquire Network, SundanceTV, Syfy, USA Network, NBCSN, and online comedy sources such as Onion News Network. Hulu retains between thirty and fifty percent of advertising revenue generated by the shows it distributes.
In November 2009, Hulu also began to establish partnerships with record labels to host music videos and concert performances on the site, including EMI in November 2009, and Warner Music Group in December 2009.
In early March 2010, Viacom announced that it was pulling two of the website's most popular shows, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, off Hulu. The programs had been airing on Hulu since late 2008. A spokesman for Viacom noted that "in the current economic model, there is not that much in it for us to continue at this time. If they can get to the point where the monetization model is better, then we may go back." In February 2011, both shows were made available for streaming on Hulu again. The Daily Show was again removed from Hulu in March 2017 in order to push viewers to watch the program on Viacom and Comedy Central's apps.
Hulu in May 2018 announced its first-ever license deal with DreamWorks Animation, becoming the exclusive streaming home for future DWA movies feature films, as well as library films. DWA had streamed exclusively through Netflix since 2013. Films will be available on the service in 2019, while original series will be available later in 2020.
From January 17, 2011 to April 24, 2014, Hulu streamed its own in-house web series The Morning After, a light-hearted pop-culture news show. It was produced by Hulu in conjunction with Jace Hall's HDFilms and stars Brian Kimmet and Ginger Gonzaga. Producing the show was a first for the company, which in the past has been primarily a content distributor.
On January 16, 2012, Hulu announced that it would be airing its first original script based program, titled Battleground, which premiered in February 2012. The program aired on Hulu's free web service rather than on the subscription-based Hulu Plus. Battleground is described as a documentary-style political drama.
Later that same month, Hulu announced it would air The Fashion Fund, a six-part reality series, and the winner of the show would receive $300,000 to start their career.
To continue with its original programming movement, Hulu announced that there would be a total of seven original programs that were planned to air on its service: Battleground, Day in the Life, and Up to Speed were previously mentioned; and on April 19, Hulu added four more shows to its list: Don't Quit Your Daydream, Flow, The Awesomes, and We Got Next. Some of these programs began airing in 2012, while others premiered over the next few years.
On May 4, 2016, Hulu acquired The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, as its first documentary acquisition, as part of a planned Hulu Documentary Films collection. The film premiered theatrically on September 15, before debuting on the streaming service on September 17.
On July 12, 2014, it was announced that Hulu had signed a three-year deal purchasing exclusive online streaming rights to the South Park library. Through the deal, the South Park Studios website became powered by Hulu video and featured advertising. Along with this, the domain name changed from "southparkstudios.com" to "southpark.cc.com". Previously, the show had been available on the television website Netflix. The new site launch caused some technical issues, which were resolved allowing fans to watch uncensored episodes and clips. For viewers outside the US, episodes and clips still stream through the "classic" South Park player and nothing changed aside from the new site design. A handful of countries also have their own localized versions of South Park sites, with the old experience.
It was announced that beginning in September 2014, following the premiere of the 18th season, only 30 select episodes will be featured for free viewing at a time on the website, with new episodes being available for an entire month starting the day following their original airings.
Neon Alley is a Viz Media-owned anime-oriented streaming service that launched on October 2, 2012, streaming to both the US and Canadian markets. At the start of April 2014, the service discontinued its original livestream format and relaunched as a video-on-demand (FVOD) platform accessible on either its website or Internet-connected devices through Hulu. Since Hulu wasn't available in the Canadian market, Neon Alley subsequently restricted its service to the United States. On July 21, 2016, Tubi TV announced that they had commenced streaming of certain Viz titles in Canada.
- Viki (Asian programs)
Hulu's original series The Handmaid's Tale, won two awards at the 33rd annual Television Critics Association Awards for Program of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Drama. At the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Hulu earned a total of 8 awards for The Handmaid's Tale and became the first streaming service to win Outstanding Drama Series. The Handmaid's Tale also received Emmys for Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Cinematography and Outstanding Production Design. Elisabeth Moss won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress, and Ann Dowd received the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress. At the 75th Golden Globe Awards The Handmaid's Tale took home two awards, Best TV Drama and Best Actress in a Drama TV Series (Elisabeth Moss).
At the 2016 Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, Hulu's first-released documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years won the award for Best Music Documentary. The documentary also received Grammy Award for Best Music Film at the 2017 Grammy Awards and Best Documentary at the 16th Annual Movies for Grownups Awards. At the Creative Arts Emmys, the documentary earned two Emmys including Outstanding Sound Editing and Outstanding Sound Mixing.
At the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards, Hulu received its first Emmy Award nominations for its Original series, 11.22.63 and for Triumph's Election Special 2016. In 2016, Hulu received its first Golden Globe nomination for its Original series, Casual, for TV series, Comedy.
In July 2010, the Financial Times revealed that Hulu had been working on plans for an international launch of Hulu Plus for several months, and had identified the UK and Japan as markets where its free website and subscription model could feasibly work. Hulu chief executive Jason Kilar expressed his belief that the US model could be replicated elsewhere, saying "We won't be satisfied until this is a global service." Hulu's first expansion into an international market took place with the launch of a service in Japan on September 1, 2011. On February 27, 2014, Nippon TV announced that it would acquire Hulu's Japanese business. The service would maintain the Hulu name under license, and Hulu would continue to provide its infrastructure and support to the service as a regional licensee. Nippon TV also planned to produce its own original content for the service.
As rights to its content are already held by other broadcasters, U.S.-based video on demand services are not usually available in Canada.
The lack of international operations had been considered a potential shortcoming of Hulu in comparison to competitors, such as Prime Video and Netflix. During an earnings call on November 8, 2018, Disney CEO Bob Iger stated that after its purchase of 20th Century Fox, it planned to make stronger investments into Hulu, including wider international expansion.