Hulu is making headway as a major television player.
Riding a wave of popularity around its original series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian story of unchecked fascism and sexism that was adapted to the small screen at a serendipitous time, the Fox-affiliated streaming service has more content and more subscribers than ever, six billion hours of content and more than 20 million accounts. That’s a lot of potential for advertising.
But Hulu tried to go beyond the numbers. Executives argued that it’s now in league with some of the biggest TV providers in the nation, and capable of competing in and winning the “race” for premium content. Hulu pitched itself as the only TV provider with access to the slippery Millennial and older Gen Z demographics that are tech-savvy and making money, as well as the only one that can offer detailed watch data because of how the platform operates.
The massive screen in what’s now officially the Hulu Theater at New York’s Madison Square Garden flashed with information like: binge-watchers of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” average four episodes per session; viewers in Kentucky watched the most live coverage of March Madness; Montana watches the most hours of TV on Hulu per subscriber.
Hulu’s new chief executive officer Randy Freer, who was previously chief operations officer of Fox Networks Group, said last year that people watched an average of 35 hours per week, more than the average viewer of “linear” TV, Amazon or Netflix, according to research.
The average Hulu viewer is 31 years old, chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell added, and despite half living cordless, or without cable of any kind, “they watch a lot of TV.”
And brands seem to be figuring that out. Lyft, Sprint, Volkswagen and Aflac executives all made appearances via video to talk up the success of working their brands into Hulu, either through Hulu-specific commercials or direct placement in Hulu’s original content.
And Hulu’s original content is expanding into some more prestige territory with some big names in entertainment.
Along with the season three renewal of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” season two of which just premiered after Elizabeth Moss won several awards for her lead role, and the season two renewal of Sarah Silverman’s political talk show “I Love You America,” Hulu revealed several shows on the horizon. “The Lift” starring Sean Penn is set in a near future when the first space mission to Mars takes place; “Ramy,” from comedians Ramy Youssef and Jerrod Carmichael will follow a practicing young Muslim in New York; Mindy Kaling will be reimagining the classic “Four Weddings and a Funeral” for a series, and George Clooney is taking on his first TV project since “E.R.” with a series adaptation of the classic novel “Catch-22.”
All the stars and creators behind these shows, save for Clooney who’s in pre-production for “Catch-22” in Italy and sent along a video, made an appearance on stage to lure advertisers with their star power and in some cases, humor.
Silverman, well-known for having something of a blue style of comedy, pitched her show as “Mr. Rogers for adults” after following the advice she was given to keep her time at the NewFront PG-13 by saying all the curse words she was allowed. “All the best parties are at 9 a.m.,” she deadpanned.
Carmichael, a black comedian, introduced himself to the crowd while talking about “Ramy,” but corrected himself in front of an audience full of advertisers, saying, “Oh, you probably all know me better as ‘A.A. 18 to 49.’”
Youssef, on stage with Carmichael, added that they were both just regular guys who “shop at Walmart and/or Target and use Colgate and Listerine — hopefully, you’re all here.”
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