Hulu Announces Downloadable, Ad-Supported Programs and Live TV Ads

Streamer renews The Handmaid’s Tale, orders Four Weddings and a Funeral series from Mindy Kaling

The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden was packed for Hulu's NewFront Wednesday morning. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Hulu looks quite different than it did during last year’s NewFronts event. Since then, the company has added a live TV service, a new CEO (Randy Freer, who joined in October), its first Emmy and Golden Globes (thanks to The Handmaid’s Tale and star Elisabeth Moss), new partnerships with Sprint and Spotify, high-profile deals for shows with George Clooney (Catch-22) and the duo of Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington (Little Fires Everywhere) and even naming rights to the theater where it holds its annual NewFront event (which is now called The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden).

But the company isn’t stopping there, announcing several new additions at this morning’s NewFronts, including the ability for users to download ad-supported movies and shows to their devices, dynamically inserted ads in its live TV product, a limited series from Mindy Kaling based on Four Weddings and a Funeral, a Season 3 renewal for signature series The Handmaid’s Tale and exclusive SVOD streaming rights to breakout freshman hit The Good Doctor.

Hulu now has more than 20 million U.S. subscribers for its subscription video on demand (SVOD) and live TV plans, an increase from the 17 million figure that the company reported in January. And 78 percent of Hulu viewing occurs in the living room, via connected TV devices.

The Handmaid's Tale, which began Season 2 last week, has been renewed for a third season, airing next year.
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While those U.S. numbers pale next to the robust global subscriber base of streaming rivals Netflix (125 million) and Amazon Prime (100 million), Hulu offers marketers something that they don’t: ad-supported content.

Peter Naylor, svp, advertising sales, said that Hulu’s ad-supported subscribers (i.e. the ones who don’t opt for Hulu’s ad-free tier) jumped 40 percent year over year.

“We are growing handsomely,” said Naylor. “The majority [of new subscribers] take the ad-supported Hulu, so we like that.”

Hulu’s median age fell to 31 this year, down from 33 in 2017, thanks to the company’s partnership with Spotify, which targeted college students. A mass market expansion of the deal, announced last month “is being gobbled up as well,” said Naylor.

The ad sales chief unveiled a pair of new offerings for advertisers today. Hulu will introduce advertising in its live TV product, via dynamic ad insertion, by the end of June. “You need to be very good at it in order for it to be a good experience for the viewer and the marketer. Those need to fire off in milliseconds,” said Naylor. (YouTube will also be selling ads for its own live TV service, YouTube TV, this year.)

During the upcoming upfront season, Hulu will finally allow subscribers to download series and movies to their devices, to watch on-the-go, without having to stream. Netflix and Amazon have offered this for some time, but Hulu’s downloaded content will include ads for subscribers on the ad-supported tier.

“We are going to make it easy for marketers to reach hard-to-reach TV viewers with this ad-supported version,” said Naylor. “It will be a sponsored-by model, it could be long-format, it could be conventional spots, but we’re pretty psyched that we can offer live, on-demand and now, on-the-go and untethered.”

The company is continuing to bask in the success of The Handmaid’s Tale, which Hulu renewed today for a third season. The drama’s splashy debut last year “signaled to the general creative community that, one, Hulu was serious about taking risks with the content opportunities. Two, that Hulu could make enough noise where something on Hulu could become part of the cultural conversation,” Freer told Adweek.

The Handmaid’s Tale has been “a massive driver of growth,” said Naylor, who signed four associate sponsors for the show’s second season, which debuted last week:, Discovery, Audi and Universal Studios.

And Freer sees no reason why the show’s momentum won’t continue in Season 2. “The episodes that I’ve watched so far tell me that there’s no limit on what this crew and cast can create,” he said.

Mindy Kaling’s Hulu return

Hulu picked up two new shows at its NewFronts event. The first is Four Weddings and a Funeral, a limited series written and executive produced by Mindy Kaling, inspired by the 1994 Hugh Grant film. The series, Hulu’s first collaboration with Kaling since The Mindy Project, will follow a group of friends whose lives intersect during the five events of its title.

It also ordered the comedy series Ramy, based on the life of creator and star Ramy Youssef, a comedian and first generation American Muslim.

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Those series join an upcoming slate that includes Castle Rock, based on the novels of Stephen King (which kicked off its marketing campaign during the Super Bowl), which debuts July 25, and The First, a drama starring Sean Penn, from House of Cards creator Beau Willimon.

This fall, the company will be turning Halloween—it calls it Huluween—into a month-long event, which will feature spooky original and library content, with plenty of opportunities to showcase brands.

That month will see the debut of In the Dark, a monthly horror anthology from Blumhouse Television. The show’s 12 episodes will each be released on the first Friday of every month and draw inspiration from a holiday in that month. The series premiere, called The Body, debuts on Oct. 5 and follows a hitman on Halloween night.

Hulu finalized a deal with DreamWorks Animation to stream future films and items from its library, and develop a series based on the company’s franchises and upcoming films.

In other advertising-related news, Hulu said it has made Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings for OTT its new currency across all connected, desktop and mobile devices.

And the company announced four new attribution and measurement partners: Polk Campaign Measurement Solutions (auto categories) Nielsen Buyer Insights (retail), IRI (consumer packaged goods) and Experian (enhancing CRM, Customer Relationship Management, data with Hulu’s first-party data for insights into sales growth).

In addition to these new tools, Naylor reminded buyers of Hulu’s lighter ad load compared to linear TV. “My competitors in the broadcast and cable space are talking about trimming back their ad load, but we’re under half of what they’re doing, at six minutes per hour,” he said.

During Hulu’s NewFronts, Freer said he “had no plans” to address the looming Disney-Fox deal, and its potential impact on the streaming company, given that Disney would end up with a 60 percent stake in the service.

“Our ownership has been super supportive of Hulu. What we continue to do is ignore every bit of noise around the [deal] and around the things that we can’t control or predict, and do everything we can to maximize our opportunity in this window of time when there is huge opportunity to acquire subscribers and acquire customers, who we intend on delighting and making passionate Hulu customers for a long time,” said Freer.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.