When you think of online video streaming, a few brands may come to mind, but not many of them offer features like live TV and speedy uploads. When it comes to these factors, Hulu is king—which is probably why the American streaming service has reached over 28 million subscribers without international expansion.
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In the case of Hulu, slow and steady wins the race. Find out more about the company and its growth throughout the years along with major partnerships that put Hulu on the map.
1. How Hulu started
Hulu was founded as a group venture into the streaming industry with business executives Bruce Campbell, Peter Chernin, JB Perrette, Michael Lang, Beth Comstock and Jason Kilar. NBC Universal, News Corporation, AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo were announced as "initial distribution partners," according to a press release. Out of all the founding execs, Kilar was eventually named chief executive officer in late 2007 and maintained that role for six years.
After an early beta test in Oct. of that year, Hulu was made available to the public on March 12, 2008—a year after Netflix launched its own streaming service. At launch, Hulu had 220 TV shows and 148 feature films in its catalog based. As the business grew its selections for viewers, Hulu was on track to reach one million subscribers in 2011.
"As a young company, we're excited about that number and we also expect it to grow aggressively in the years to come," Kilar wrote at the time.
Hulu expanded that growth to 25 million subscribers in early 2019 and scraped up nearly $1.5 billion in advertising revenue for the 2018 fiscal year, according to an article from The Hollywood Reporter.
2. Hulu’s streaming journey
In the first few years of Hulu’s launch, the streaming service offered both free and paid content. Broadcast experts believed however, that the streaming service needed to evolve to a subscription-based model to build its business.
Hulu listened to this message and dissolved its free video on-demand structure six years later in order to devote itself exclusively to a subscription model while also remaining ad-supported unlike other competing services. Users who wish to watch content without advertisements can do so for an extra fee.
Other features that have made Hulu competitive to the likes of Netflix include expanded content libraries with full seasons in addition to day-after access for shows currently airing.
Hulu began streaming its own original content in 2011. It kicked off the venture with its pop culture news show “The Morning After,” which was canceled in 2014.
3. Hulu and notable partnerships
To become the successful company that it is today, Hulu had to make strategic and competitive partnerships to take on other streaming giants. A few notable deals Hulu signed with content providers include:
April 30, 2009
The Walt Disney Company purchased a 27 percent stake in Hulu.
Oct. 28, 2011
Hulu inked a five-year deal with The CW, which gave the streaming site access to next-day content from five of the six major networks. This deal ultimately ended on Sept. 18, 2016 when The CW removed its content to start its own streaming portals.
Sept. 18, 2013
Hulu announced a multi-year deal with the BBC that delivered 2,000 programs from 144 different shows in the first 12 months.
July 12, 2015
Hulu began offering content from premium cable network Showtime.
June 16, 2016
Hulu expanded its kids programming in a deal with the Disney-ABC Television Group, which provided exclusive subscription video on demand rights to past seasons of seven series from Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD, as well as more than 20 Disney Channel original movies.
Jan. 4, 2017
The streaming company inked a deal that provided limited on-demand content access to CBS libraries. Hulu also reached an agreement that snagged live broadcasts from CBS and its several affiliated channels.
April 11, 2018
Hulu and Spotify announced a streaming partnership that allows users to bundle the services for a discounted rate. The move also provided a steeper discount for university students.
4. Hulu and live television
To differentiate itself from the rest, Hulu began offering live TV programming to its subscribers in May 2016—this included live sports, news and events. Later in the year, co-owners 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company agreed to supply their branded channels to the streaming service, according to a report from Deadline. Time Warner had also reached an agreement with Hulu despite it also being partially owned by Comcast at the time.
Two years after launching the live TV initiative, USA TODAY published an article detailing Hulu’s milestone reach of one million subscribers. In late April 2019, tech news website iMore reported Hulu’s live TV service has grown to include more than 60 broadcast and cable channels.
5. Hulu and the Disney acquisition
In Dec. 2017, Disney announced its decision to acquire 21st Century Fox, which included the 30 percent stake Fox had in Hulu. With the sale finalized on March 20, 2019, Disney’s controlling interest in Hulu went up to 60 percent. A year later, WarnerMedia’s subsidiary AT&T sold its 9.5 percent stake in Hulu back to the company for $1.43 billion. By May 14, 2019, Comcast also relinquished its control in Hulu to Disney but maintained a 33 percent stake through NBCUniversal.
Under Disney’s ownership, Hulu is said to be a major component to its direct-to-consumer strategy in conjunction with ESPN+ and Disney+ service, according to an article in The Hollywood Reporter. Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement that direct integration of Hulu with Disney's studios would "make the service even more compelling and a greater value for consumers."
Current Hulu CEO Randy Freer also agreed that having Disney oversee service would be a positive for the company. “Investment in original programming will increase significantly,” he said.