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Netflix Rivals Claim It Will Eventually Have to Bow to Advertising

Phillip Dampier June 25, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Netflix, Online Video No Comments

As some Netflix shareholders grumble about the company’s massive investment in developing original content, some of Netflix’s smaller rivals claim the streaming service cannot forever depend on subscription fees alone to cover the billions being spent on new series and movies.

NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino and Hulu’s Peter Naylor both believe Netflix will eventually have to begin inserting advertising into shows if it wishes to continue its spending spree on content while avoiding steep rate increases.

At a Cannes Lions panel held last week, content companies discussed the evolution of streaming services and their embrace of traditional advertising.

“When you have to make more programming that’s not guaranteed to be a hit, you have to spend more money, you have to build your brand, you have to help the consumer discover your stuff — the price will go up for the subscription, and it would be logical to mitigate those increases to take ads,” Yaccarino said.

Hulu remains the biggest and best-known example of a streaming service built on a traditional advertising model. Customers pay $5.99 a month for advertiser-sponsored content, similar to traditional linear television. Customers can buy their way out of advertising interruptions by paying $11.99 a month for a commercial-free plan that is roughly double the usual price. Just under 30% of Hulu subscribers currently select the commercial-free option.

Hulu’s bathroom break ad, displayed when a video is paused.

Naylor claims traditional advertising need not continue to resemble commercial broadcast television, despite the fact Hulu is still mimicking that experience.

“The future of ad-supported media does not resemble what we’re doing today in terms of ad load or even ad shape,” Naylor said. “It can be interactive advertising or nonintrusive advertising. I think you’re going to see a lot of innovation from all of these new OTT providers because we’re allowed to. We’re not married to the clock. Fifteen and 30-second ads were a product of linear TV. When everything’s on demand and served through an IP address, the ad experience is going to dramatically improve.”

Hulu has been experimenting with different ad formats to gauge subscriber acceptance. Interactive advertising, viewer-selected ads, and banner ads that appear when programming is paused are all being tested.

Although Hulu is dabbling in original content, NBCUniversal spent more than $28 billion on content acquisition and development last year. In contrast, Netflix spent $12 billion. Yaccarino said that as more streaming services launch, particularly those from Disney and WarnerMedia, Netflix will have to further increase its spending to keep up.

A Netflix spokesperson told CNBC all this talk was “wishful thinking from an advertising conference.” Netflix is not currently focused on incorporating ads into any of its shows, the spokesperson confirmed.

Hulu… by Disney; Comcast Becomes Passive Partner in Streaming Service

Effective today, Hulu is now under the full control of the Walt Disney Company, ending a decade of a sometimes-uneasy partnership between rivals NBC-Universal, 21st Century Fox, Disney-ABC and Time Warner (Entertainment).

This morning, Disney and Comcast, the last two partners in the streaming venture, reached an agreement that will give full operational control of Hulu to Disney, in return for either company having the right to force Disney to buy out Comcast’s remaining 33% interest in the service beginning in 2024. In effect, with Comcast giving up its three seats on Hulu’s board and its veto power, the cable company now becomes a passive partner in the venture. At a Disney-guaranteed value of at least $27.5 billion five years from now, Comcast could eventually walk away from Hulu with at least $9 billion in compensation.

Today’s agreement means Disney will own and control multiple streaming services. Disney today announced it has big plans for Hulu, despite preparing to launch its own Disney+ streaming service and already operating its own streaming platform for ESPN. Disney CEO Robert Iger said Disney+ will now be focused on kids and family-friendly entertainment, while Hulu will be Disney’s platform for adult-focused movies and series. Disney’s recent acquisition of the 20th Century Fox content library and FX’s suite of cable channels gives it plenty of additional content to bring to both of its general entertainment streaming services.

To make sure of a smooth transition, both companies have agreed to a lucrative extension of Hulu’s license to stream NBC-Universal content and networks, as well as a retransmission consent agreement to allow Hulu Live to continue carrying NBC-Universal networks and TV channels until the end of 2024. That will deliver a significant revenue boost to Comcast, which can use the money to help build its own forthcoming streaming platform, launching in 2020.

“We are now able to completely integrate Hulu into our direct-to-consumer business and leverage the full power of The Walt Disney Company’s brands and creative engines to make the service even more compelling and a greater value for consumers,” said Iger in a statement.

NBC-Universal chief executive Steve Burke said in a statement that the deal is “a perfect outcome for us” because the “extension of the content-licensing agreement will generate significant cash flow for us, while giving us maximum flexibility to program and distribute to our own direct-to-consumer platform.”

For consumers, Iger is expected to consider offering a discounted bundled package to Hulu subscribers who also sign up for Disney+. With a combination of Hulu and Disney+, Netflix’s biggest U.S. rival is about to get considerably bigger.

Hulu Readies Refreshed Interface, Limited Ad Breaks to Strengthen Subscriber Loyalty

Phillip Dampier May 1, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video No Comments

Hulu, unlike its bigger rival Netflix, still depends on commercials for a substantial part of its income, and on Wednesday put on a presentation for advertisers hoping to maintain their interest in sponsoring the platform as it undergoes ownership and design changes.

Hulu announced it now has 26.8 million paid subscribers, and an additional 1.3 million free promotional accounts (many through a partnership with Spotify), totalling over 28 million customers overall. That is an increase of roughly three million since January.

Hulu is still a fraction of the size of its rival Netflix, which has 60.2 million U.S. subscribers and 148.8 million overall worldwide.

The past 12 months have been disruptive for Hulu because of ownership changes. Disney inherited an additional 30% ownership stake from its acquisition of Fox and bought out minority partner AT&T, which itself had acquired a 10% interest in Hulu when it merged with Time Warner (Entertainment). As of this month, Disney controls 67% of Hulu, with Comcast-NBC owning the remaining 33%. Comcast-NBC is said to be looking to sell its minority stake in Hulu, presumably to Disney, giving the owner of ABC and ESPN full ownership.

At the same time, Disney is working towards launching its own streaming platform, Disney+, this November, leading some to wonder what will become of Hulu. The answer came today — both platforms will continue, with an undisclosed price break for those agreeing to subscribe to both Disney+ and Hulu.

Originally a partnership between three of the four major American TV networks, Hulu was the original home for online streaming of current network TV shows. But as those networks drift apart to run their own ventures, Hulu appears to be investing in more original programming to hold viewer interest, but remaining open to advertising — a smaller Netflix with ads.

With so many new streaming services launching, Hulu is positioning itself to reduce customer alienation and try to increase subscriber engagement.

Subscribers will be gently introduced to a new user interface by this summer, with the option of switching back and forth during the test phase, to improve usability.

Peter Naylow, Hulu’s senior vice president and head of ad sales, also announced advertising limits and changes, including:

  • No ad breaks over 90 seconds
  • Viewers will not see the same ad more than twice per hour
  • The same ad will not be seen by viewers more than four times per day
  • Advertisers can sponsor ad-free viewing of individual episodes
  • Binge viewers may see personalized special offers from sponsors
  • Easter Eggs will be scattered on the platform, offering viewers obviously fake shows that, if selected, activate special offers from Hulu and “brand partners.”
  • Static ads will appear when viewers pause playback.

For $11.99/month, subscribers can continue to avoid all advertising on the Hulu platform entirely.

New original shows

To maintain viewer interest, Hulu’s partnership with Marvel will give subscribers two new live-action shows: “Marvel’s Ghost Rider” and “Marvel’s Helstrom,” scheduled to debut in 2020. Other Marvel productions will be found on Disney+ (which will cost $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year).

Other productions:

  • A new slate of cooking shows
  • Made-for-Hulu movies based on Liane Moriarty’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” and “The Dropout” — the story of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, starring Kate McKinnon.

Spotify Premium Customers Get Free Hulu Starting Today

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2019 Consumer News, Hulu No Comments

Spotify Premium customers in the U.S. can now get a free subscription to Hulu’s “Limited Commercials” plan just by activating the offer, beginning today.

“Starting today, March 12, you can enjoy Hulu as part of your regular $9.99-per-month Spotify Premium membership,” Spotify shared on its blog. “That’s right, you are getting Hulu on us.”

Spotify provides these details on how to take advantage of the offer, whether you are new to the service or an existing customer:

If you’re already a Spotify Premium user, it only takes a few seconds to add Hulu’s ad-supported plan to your account—just visit the Your Services page. If you’re new to Spotify Premium, sign up for the bundle now at Spotify.com; you’ll get your first thirty days of both Spotify Premium and Hulu on us, then pay $9.99 per month. (Subscribers who are currently paying $12.99 per month as part of last year’s bundle offer will be automatically reduced to the regular Spotify Premium $9.99 price.) Open until June 10, 2019 or while supplies last. Terms apply.

If you already pay for Hulu directly through Hulu, you need to cancel your account on Hulu.com and then reactivate the subscription through Spotify’s website. Spotify claims it is not possible for customers to upgrade to Hulu’s “No Commercials” plan through this deal. The offer is only good in the United States and worse, cannot be redeemed by Spotify Family Plan members who already pay extra to share their Spotify account with other family members.

Still, if you are already a Spotify Premium customer, getting Hulu (with “limited commercials”) for free is not a bad deal.

Hulu Announces Pricing Changes: Basic Hulu Drops to $5.99, Cord-Cutting Package Sees $5 Rate Hike

Phillip Dampier January 23, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Hulu, Online Video 1 Comment

Just days after Netflix announced its largest rate hike in the history of the streaming service, Hulu is following with its own announcement of “new pricing options” that will cost some customers less and others more.

“Over the past year, Hulu has added thousands of exclusive TV episodes and movies, launched nearly a dozen additional popular live TV channels – including The CW, Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and ABC News – and upgraded the technology platforms to support more devices and provide superior quality to our viewers,” Hulu announced on its Hulu Updates website. “With more than 85,000 episodes of on-demand television — more than any other U.S. streaming service — as well as thousands of movies and more than 60 popular live television channels, Hulu makes it easy for TV fans to get the most complete television experience. Today, we’re announcing updates to our pricing options (that will go into effect next month) to allow current and new subscribers to choose the best Hulu experience for them.”

New Rates

  • Hulu Basic (with commercials) drops $2 per month from $7.99 to $5.99.
  • Hulu (No Ads) remains $11.99 a month.
  • Hulu + Live TV, the entry-level cord-cutters package with more than 60 live channels and access to Hulu on-demand content with commercials increases $5 per month to $44.99.
  • Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV is also increasing $5 a month to $50.99 and features more than 60 live channels and Hulu’s on demand content with no commercials.

Hulu Basic had often been offered at $5.99 a month during special promotions, and the new lower price could attract more long-term subscribers. The increase in price for live television service comes as the result of increasing programming expenses and a desire to increase revenue. Hulu’s competitors have also been raising prices on packages featuring live networks and local channels.

Hulu’s new pricing will take effect on Feb. 26. Existing customers will see the price changes reflected in billing cycles beginning on or after Feb. 26.

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