Joel Stillerman Out at Hulu Amid Reorganization

Joel Stillerman - 2018 Hulu TCA - Getty - H 2018
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Hulu content chief Joel Stillerman is leaving the streamer amid a companywide reorganization.

Under newly appointed CEO Randy Freer, Hulu is restructuring its content team around content partnerships and original programming. As a result, the company is eliminating the role of chief content officer that Stillerman has held since June of last year.

Two other senior executives, senior vp partnerships and distribution Tim Connolly and senior vp experience Ben Smith, are also departing as part of the reshuffling, which is impacting not only the content team but also the technology and product teams, marketing group and data and analytics divisions. 

The reorganization come at a pivotal moment for Hulu, which has seen significant growth over the last year to over 20 million total subscribers on the success of the breakout The Handmaid's Tale and the launch of its new live television service. At the same time, the future of the company — which is managed as a joint venture of Disney, 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal and Time Warner — has been up in the air since Disney announced plans to aquire most of the Fox assets, including its 30 percent stake in Hulu, in a $52.4 billion deal. If the deal passes regulatory muster, it would give Disney a 60 percent majority ownership stake in Hulu, which some observers predict will cause friction with other part-owners NBC (30 percent) and Time Warner (10 percent). 

“As one of today's top direct-to-consumer entertainment brands, led by technology, innovation and data, Hulu has an enormous opportunity to lead the media and advertising industries into the future," Freer, who took over as CEO in November last year, said Friday in a statement. "By adding new expertise and capabilities to our executive ranks and creating greater alignment around our customers, we are positioning Hulu to grow more rapidly, innovate more quickly and connect consumers even more deeply with the content they love."

Going forward, Hulu's content team will be split into two groups: One will oversee content partnership for both the on-demand and live productions, combining the content licensing, acquisition and business functions of the previously separate groups; and another that will handle original programming development and production. The change is being characterized as allowing the company to address programming needs and business decisions across live and on-demand content.

As part of the change, the Hulu originals team will now operate as a dedicated business division led by senior vp content Craig Erwich, who will report directly to Freer. Hulu will not hire a chief content officer to replace Stillerman but is looking for a new head of its content partnerships group.

Stillerman was hired away from AMC and Sundance TV in May 2017 after former Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins staged a months-long search for a chief content officer to oversee original programming, on-demand content license agreements and the lineup of channels for Hulu's new live TV product. He officially started at the streamer in June after it had already found a critical breakout with Elisabeth Moss-starrer Handmaid's Tale. 

At Hulu, Stillerman — who relocated from New York to Los Angeles for the job — oversaw a team of more than 40 employees. But there was always a question about how he would fit into an organization that already included Erwich and vp content development Beatrice Springborn. In the months since his hire, the originals team has set a slate of Handmaid's follow-ups which include George Clooney's Catch-22 adaptation and Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington's take on the Celest Ng best-seller Little Fires Everywhere. But the perception around town has been that Stillerman had yet to make his mark on the programming at the streamer despite his track record developing The Walking Dead and Better Caul Saul during his tenure at AMC. Further, there have been a number of organizational changes at Hulu since he joined the company, namely the departure of Hopkins — who in October left to become chairman of Sony Pictures Television and was replaced at Hulu by Freer, the former Fox Networks Group president and COO. 

Before coming to Hulu, Stillerman served as president of original programming at AMC and Sundance TV. He joined the cable network post-Mad Men and Breaking Bad in 2008 and added Sundance TV to his purview in 2015. During his time there, he helped develop The Walking Dead (TV's No. 1 show among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic); its spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead; Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul; The Night Manager; and Into the Badlands

Hulu is also making changes at a number of its other divisions. The streamer has hired a chief technology officer, TiVo veteran Dan Phillips, to align its technology and product strategy under one team. He begins Tuesday. Further, it has appointed its first chief data officer, Jaya Kolhatkar, to oversee customer intelligence, data governance and data-driven decision-making. The Walmart veteran begins at Hulu on July 2. 

Further, CMO Kelly Campbell, who was hired from Google last summer, is expanding her role to oversee the entire subscriber journey, from acquisition to engagement and retention to viewer expeirence and research. As a result, Smith — who previously oversaw the Hulu experience and was integral to the launch of the live TV product — is retiring in July.