Hulu is becoming more synonymous with Hollywood, if its NewFronts presentation is anything to go by.
The streaming service, now majority-owned by Disney through its recent acquisition of Fox Studios, made its many, many relationships with some of the industry’s most popular talent the linchpin of its pitch to advertisers this year.
George Clooney took the stage to plug his upcoming series “Catch-22,” noting his last appearance at an upfront was 25 years ago for the pilot of “ER.” Chrissy Teigen came on to talk about her deal to “curate” some Hulu content and also produce a slate of shows with Momofuku founder and chef David Chang, who also stopped by. Mindy Kaling, too, as she produced the upcoming series adaptation of “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” joking that this is her 40th Hulu NewFronts and that she’ll take ad money from “anyone we’re legally allowed to.” Then there was Reese Witherspoon, who got some shrieking applause, and talked about her new show in production “Little Fires Everywhere,” which she’s costarring in with Kerry Washington. Hulu also has a new show with Nicole Kidman based on another book by the author of “Big Little Lies,” but the actress didn’t make it to the presentation. Margot Robbie and Kat Dennings did though, to promote their show “Dollface,” as did Kate McKinnon, who will be starring in a series based on far-fallen Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. Oh, and Zoë Kravitz came to promote a series adaptation of “High Fidelity,” in which she’ll star as the main character originated by John Cusack. Co-creator of “Rick and Morty” Justin Roiland made a special clip of his upcoming cartoon “Solar Opposites.” Elle Fanning came to push “The Great,” an upcoming series about Catherine the Great written by Tony McNamara, who wrote “The Favourite.”
It was a lot of celebrity, obviously. But, as Craig Erwich, Hulu’s head of original content, put it: “In this era of peak TV, you have to stand out.” And something is working, because Hulu said it’s up to 28 million subscribers, which it said totals 58 million individual users given household sharing, and total hours watched is up 75 percent. While Netflix has 149 million total subscribers, Hulu said it was actually the “fastest-growing” streaming service last year and is on track to continue at that pace.
Beyond how many people are watching Hulu and how many stars it has production deals with, executives pitched advertisers on some new ways to connect with an audience that is mostly 35 years old and under, while the average traditional TV audience is 53 years old. Hulu is going to add some “easter eggs” in its content line-up that allow users who click the chance to win brand-sponsored gifts and special product codes. Then there are new ad tools, like commercials, to run during pauses and new data tools to target viewers based on their habits. Because without the ads, few of Hulu’s many shows would exist, something all of the stars had on their minds as they thanked the crowd for their support.
“I love ads,” comedian and co-creator of “Ramy” Ramy Youssef said. “They gave me free Hulu and I sent it back. I was like, ‘Give me the one with the commercials. Let’s see what all of these fine people do.’”
At Verizon Media’s presentation Tuesday night, it was clear how much the company has changed over the last year.
Beyond the new name (It was Oath for a minute, but that was dissolved early this year after a $4.5 billion write-down of the business and layoffs of about 800 in the media group), the tone was just as different. Last year was an attempt at an outdoor festival with hundreds of non-industry guests, a bawdy MC in Jamie Foxx and a talk of deals with LeBron James and U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach (who was at Hulu’s presentation this year instead). This year it was all earnestness, with Verizon Media chief executive Guru Gowrappan trying to talk up the subsidiary’s connection to 4 billion monthly users and “the power of intentions.”
“Intention like how we live our lives, how we get our information, how we respect every person and work to gain their trust. Verizon is where all of these intentions live together,” he said.
Most of the presentation was focused on Verizon Media’s access to people through their daily habits (this is the “intention” part) of checking e-mail, sports results and financial market data through Yahoo’s mail and verticals and search engine, along with checking things like the weather and receiving coupons. It was staid and executives said eight in 10 users “associate trust” with Yahoo. But there was also talk of “custom branded content” either ads or straight editorial made by “journalists.” Consumption.
The splashiest part of the presentation was the reveal of “Hypezilla” a cartoon beast obsessed with fashion created with Verizon’s 5G technology, which made the data transfer so fast that the cartoon was animated through motion capture in essentially real time. Of course he was wearing Off-White Nike Air Jordans, to drive home the availability for branded content and product placement.
Julianne Moore was the only celebrity to take the stage to introduce a new documentary made by Ryot, a Verizon Media subsidiary, titled “5B” about a handful of nurses who touched and cared for AIDS patients at the height of the epidemic, when there were widespread fears around how the disease could be contracted. It’s hard to imagine a better way to strike a serious tone than an AIDS documentary.
But it wasn’t until Verizon’s ceo Hans Vestberg, appointed less than a year ago, took the stage that Verizon Media’s recent struggles were alluded to at all.
“I hope now there is no doubt about our commitment to Verizon Media and how it fits into our overall strategy,” Vestberg said, the only executive of the night to not use a teleprompter for his remarks. His statements also alluded to what may be a new, more serious, ethos at Verizon media, in general.
“We understand that times are changing and we need to be responsible in everything that we do,” he said. “We will use the voice we have to talk about the things that matter to us.”
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