Questioning Hulu's Future

TROUBLED WATERS?

Earlier this month, Fast Company published a lengthy feature on Hulu arguing the streaming service’s success has jeopardized its future growth as well as the tenure of its CEO, Jason Kilar. Reporter Nicole Laporte writes that Hulu’s accomplishments have made it an easy target for networks and studios fearful of what digital distribution threatens to do to traditional business models:

“‘Half the people at [networks and studios] wish [Hulu] would go away,’ says one source who, like many of the dozens of studio execs, agents, producers, and Kilar's colleagues I interviewed for this story, asked not to be identified for fear of alienating any of the parties involved.”

MIP decided to look back at other commentaries, discussions, and speculations that the site has prompted in its short history. With few exceptions, we stuck to entries with 1,000 words or more and kept them in chronological order. While our list is not exhaustive, it does highlight how the tenuous relationship between Kilar and his company’s corporate parents (News Corp., Disney, and Comcast/NBCUniversal) has always lurked in the background of the site’s success, suggesting perhaps that this story’s conclusion was foretold from the beginning.

2008

  • Ed. Note: Hulu officially launches as a free streaming site in March.
  • Less than a month later, Hulu’s “counterintuitive” approach to online video earns praise.
  • The Associated Press names Hulu "Website of the Year." 

2009 

  • Hulu attracts attention for turning a profit despite drawing fewer users than its rival YouTube.
  • Ed. Note: Disney purchases a stake in the company in March.
  • Hulu’s growing popularity raises questions about how to accurately measure audiences for online video.
  • Attention turns to the unlikely partnership between old and new media that spawned Hulu.  
  • After the site hits a major milestone, questions about a possible subscription model start to circulate.
  • The NBC-Comcast merger draws attention to the “threat” Hulu poses to cable television.
  • Here's a 2009 Charlie Rose interview with Kilar: 

2010

  • Hulu suffers its first major setback: Viacom pulls Comedy Central programs, including The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report, in a disagreement over license fees.
  • Reports emerge that Hulu faces increasing pressure from its parent companies to earn more money and establish a subscription service.
  • Hulu launches a beta version of HuluPlus in the summer as an invite-only preview service for $9.99 per month. Hulu ultimately drops the price to $7.99 after its official launch. The move highlights differing opinions on how to monetize online video.
  • Complicated licensing agreements detract from the service’s “anytime, anywhere” promise as viewers voicefrustrations over the difficulty in understanding what they can or cannot access on Hulu, and for how long.
  • Rumors emerge about a possible $2 billion IPO. The news prompts Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan tocriticize digital delivery methods, saying sites like Hulu unfairly benefit from content without compensating those who create it.
  • Ed. Note: In October, Hulu’s owners scrap plans for an IPO.

Kilar
Hulu CEO Jason Kilar

2011

  • Hulu's parent companies contemplate turning Hulu into an online cable operator to resolve concerns over cannibalizing their content.
  • After Viacom returns to Hulu, Kilar posts a blog post about the future of television that the trades frame as a major affront to Hulu’s owners. 
  • Hulu gains notice as an emergent source of international content, especially  U.K. television series.
  • FOX limits access to online videos for non-cable subscribers, a move that prompts discussion about cord cutting, authentication, piracy, and the future of Hulu.   

2012

  • Hulu announces a $500 million commitment to original content development and pitches content to advertisers at this year’s upfronts.
  • HuluPlus attracts 2 million paid subscribers and revises its content strategy.
  • Variety obtains a confidential internal memo between News Corp. and Disney that outlines anticipated changes to the streaming service, including new content deals that risk diluting Hulu’s competitive advantage. The memo also raises questions about Kilar’s future at the company.
  • Hulu’s corporate parents are the source of concern for viewers who worry about the threat of authentication and "an increasingly erratic and confusing consumer experience.”
  • Here's a 2012 Charlie Rose interview with Kilar: 

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