How Will Hulu's Live TV Stand Out Among Competitors?

CEO Mike Hopkins revealed the streamer’s new pact with CBS will offer live streams of everything from NFL Games to the Grammys for less than $40 a month, but analysts remain skeptical of its prospects.
Courtesy of Hulu
Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins

Outside of the robots and voice technology that impressed at the annual CES tech conference in Las Vegas from Jan. 5 to 8, it was a yet-to-launch live TV service from Hulu that stole the show. But many questions remain about the product.

Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins revealed Jan. 4 that the streamer is one step closer to launching its cable competitor after inking a deal with CBS that will include live streams of NFL games and the Grammys. Hulu already has struck licensing deals with part-owners 21st Century Fox, Disney and Time Warner. The CBS pact means fellow Hulu owner NBCUniversal's NBC remains the lone broadcast holdout. (Hopkins did say that Hulu was in "active discussions" to bring NBCU programming to the service.)

While a robust lineup of channels will be key to helping Hulu compete in the increasingly crowded live TV space, it won't be the only feature needed to stand out against the likes of DirecTV, Dish and PlayStation — all of which have launched digital live TV services in the past two years. Hopkins revealed the service will cost less than $40 a month, including a membership to Hulu's $8-per-month subscription video-on-demand service, but he hasn't yet disclosed the final price point. "We wanted to make sure it wasn't confusing to customers," Hopkins tells THR of the decision to include the $8-a-month on-demand offering in the live TV package. "We're Hulu. We have all these originals and all these acquired shows and films. We wanted to make sure that you're getting the whole offering."

Instead, executives at CES placed an emphasis on a new, more personalized product and interface that Hopkins says "is key" to differentiating it from competitors. "You have to get to our product and say, 'This is different, and it works really well for me,'" he adds. Other features will include cloud DVR storage, though just how much storage has yet to be announced, and support for multiple user profiles, a product that has already begun to roll out.

Though a launch date, full channel lineup and price have yet to be announced, analysts remain bullish on its prospects. Pivotal senior analyst Brian Wieser wrote in a note that Hulu "has so far provided its owners with some strategic advantages" and that the live TV service "will provide another one."

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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