Hulu Reveals Most-Watched Show, Touts 20 Million Subscribers

Hulu takes a victory lap as 'The Handmaid's Tale' continues to draw new subscribers and everyone from George Clooney to Sarah Silverman stump for the streamer.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Hulu
Hulu CEO Randy Freer

There was a subtle change at Madison Square Garden when Hulu returned to the historic venue Wednesday for its annual NewFronts presentation. 

Two months ago, the theater where the streamer hosts its pitch to advertisers each year was renamed the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. It was just another reminder that the Hulu presenting in 2018 looks a lot different from the Hulu that traveled to meet with Madison Avenue last year. In the 12 months since executives last took the stage, the company debuted its biggest show to date. The Handmaid's Tale not only vaulted Hulu into the prestige-TV conversation and earned it several Emmy and Golden Globe wins, but the dystopian drama also has driven new viewers to the streamer: Hulu announced Wednesday morning that it now has 20 million subscribers, up from 17 million at the end of 2017. Further, the April 25 debut of the Elisabeth Moss starrer's second season drew double the audience compared with the first-season premiere. 

The programming slate that Hulu showed off for advertisers is built off the success of Handmaid's Tale. The streamer has lined up an adaptation of Catch-22 to be produced and directed by George Clooney (who also will star in the miniseries), the Stephen King anthology Castle Rock, the comedy Ramy and Mindy Kaling's TV version of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Handmaid's Tale, CEO Randy Freer noted, "energized the creative community around us." 

Though Hulu is still smaller than streaming giants Netflix and Amazon, executives played to its strengths Wednesday, showcasing its broad TV offerings — noting that it has more episodes of TV than both rivals — and emphasizing the point that Hulu provides advertising opportunities for brands that other streaming services do not. During the hourlong presentation — Freer noted that the pitch started late because "in true Hulu fashion, the show starts when you're ready" — execs also trotted out some of their bold-name collaborators (Clooney, in a clip culled from the Catch-22 production in Italy, drew big laughs, as did Ramy star Ramy Youssef and I Love You, America host Sarah Silverman) and touted their access to a young, TV-loving audience. 

Kaling, whom executives describe as the embodiment of Hulu, closed out the presentation, drawing laughs from the crowd for her digs at the competition. She joked that Hulu doesn't drop an Adam Sandler movie "every other week" and isn't an add-on from "the place you buy tampons and garden hoses." 

All About TV

Thanks to the launch of Hulu's live TV service last spring, the streamer has zeroed in on its role as a provider of TV content to audiences. Yes, Hulu has a broad library of movies, but executives focused on the size of the streaming library. The streamer now offers more than 75,000 episodes of television, including the exclusive rights to The Good Doctor, which was announced Wednesday morning. When she took the stage, chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell noted that there were 35,000 people who watched all 331 episodes of ER in the two months after the classic show hit Hulu. Meanwhile, subscribers watched 135 million hours of South Park, the service's most popular show, in 2017. "The addition of live TV has had a huge impact on overall viewing," Campbell said, noting that Hulu live TV subscribers have doubled their consumption of on-demand content. 

Data, Data, Data

If there is one advantage that Hulu has over the broadcast networks that will present their upfronts in a couple of weeks, it is an access to data about its consumers. And the streamer wasn't shy about sharing what it knows about its viewers with advertisers. According to executives, Hulu viewers streamed more than 6 billion hours of premium content in 2017, and engagement with the service was up more than 60 percent. The streamer also touted that the median age of its viewers is 31, a much younger demo than most traditional TV networks. Hulu is using its tech capabilities to improve the user experience for viewers, too. Head of experience Ben Smith revealed that viewers can ask the service to "stop suggesting this to me" and Hulu will no longer show that particular show. He explained: "We believe you should spend more time watching what you love and less time scrolling through what you don't."

Return of the Subscriber 

Last year, Hulu announced that it would no longer disclose the size of its subscriber base and would instead focus on the overall audience that watches content on its platform. While the 47 million viewers announced in 2017 was an impressive number, it meant that analysts and advertisers could no longer compare how Hulu stacked up against other streaming services. So in January, Hulu brought back the subscriber metric, announcing 17 million members. It updated the number again Wednesday, revealing that the service had grown to more than 20 million subscribers in just four months, making it the fastest-growing streaming service in the U.S. And, according to Freer, "over the past three quarters, Hulu has added more U.S. subscribers than any other pay TV brand."

Animation

With more than 75,000 episodes on its service, it's easy for shows to get lost. So Hulu took a moment to highlight the popularity of animation and kids content on its platform. The streamer is working with Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation to reimagine Animaniacs for a new generation of children. And, in a coup for the streamer, content chief Joel Stillerman announced onstage that Hulu has struck a deal with DreamWorks Animation to become the exclusive streaming home to new animated films starting with titles released in 2019. As part of the agreement, which Stillerman called "the biggest kids and family deal [for Hulu] to date," Hulu will also work with DWA to produce new original series for the service. (Netflix has had a relationship with DWA for years and is releasing six kids originals with the studio this year, but the news that DWA will stream its upcoming movies on Hulu may say more about Netflix's de-emphasis on licensing other companies' film libraries than it does about Hulu's dealmaking abilities.)