Code/Media: Hulu CEO Says There Isn't Too Much TV, Just "Too Many Crappy Shows"

Mike Hopkins - H 2015
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Mike Hopkins - H 2015

Mike Hopkins says Hulu will add documentaries that are consistent with its pop-culture, TV-focused brand.

Hulu could soon be adding documentary films to its slate of original programming.

“The way we’re looking at originals in the doc world is that we’re pop culture, we’re entertainment, we’re TV,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said Thursday at the Code/Media conference in Dana Point, Calif. “When we make something it probably ought to be in that vein.”

Hulu recently added to its small but growing slate of licensed films through an output deal with IFC that gives it streaming rights to titles including Sundance’s Weiner. Hopkins said that such deals help Hulu build up a library to support the investment into originals. “Our customers like it,” he added.

This will be a telling year for Hulu’s push into originals. The company — which is co-owned by Fox Broadcasting Group, ABC Television Group and NBCUniversal Television Group — had its first awards showing in January with comedy Casual up for best original comedy series. (It lost out to Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle.) Now it is pressing forward into bigger-budgeted scripted drama fare with Monday's release of J.J. Abrams-produced event series 11.22.63 starring James Franco.

“We’ve been very aggressive,” said Hopkins, arguing that a content creator would not immediately sell their show to Netflix or Amazon over Hulu. “We’ve been in virtually every conversation.”

When asked about whether Hulu’s original content competes with the content coming from its owners, Hopkins was emphatic that that’s not the case. “We look at ourselves as a complement to everything,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to say, 'I’m just going to buy Hulu or Netflix.' A huge percentage of our customers buy pay TV as well. We’re an add-on.”

Meanwhile, Hulu is also investing in its product, adding an ad-free tier that Hopkins said has not cannibalized advertising revenue. “Our ad business, since we launched commercial-free, is up 30 percent,” he boasted.

Hopkins sidestepped questions about whether Time Warner will join Hulu’s existing owners. “I’m not going to advance that story here today,” he said, adding that Hulu has a great relationship with Time Warner through a licensing deal with Turner and a partnership with Warner Bros. on 11.22.63.

Hulu, which reported about a year ago that it had 9 million paid subscribers, is one of a growing number of streaming platforms diving into original programming. In addition to industry leaders Netflix and Amazon, YouTube also has started funding programming.

But Hopkins isn’t worried about the “too much TV” argument made by FX Networks topper John Landgraf and others. “My personal point of view is that there are too many crappy shows out there and not enough good shows,” he said. “We’re all trying to make good shows.”