Hulu CEO Randy Freer Out Amid Reorganization

Randy Freer speaks onstage during Hulu Upfront 2018 - May 2, 2018 - Getty-h 2018
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Hulu

The Hulu business will be more closely integrated into Disney's direct-to-consumer business.

Randy Freer is leaving his role as Hulu CEO amid a reorganization that will more closely align the streaming service with parent company Disney and its direct-to-consumer business. 

"I want to thank Randy for his leadership the last two years as CEO and for his collaboration the past several months to ensure an exceptionally bright future for Hulu," Kevin Mayer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international at Disney, said Friday in a statement announcing Freer's departure. 

The move comes eight months after Disney assumed full operational control over Hulu following its acquisition of the Fox assets, including its 30 percent stake in the streamer. But it had largely been business as usual within Hulu, which is headquartered out of Santa Monica, as Disney focused on launching Disney+. Now, the company is signaling that it will look to further align Hulu within the rest of its streaming business, which also includes ESPN+. 

"With the successful launch of Disney+, we are now focused on the benefits of scale within and across our portfolio of DTC businesses," Mayer continued. "Further integrating the immensely talented Hulu team into our organization will allow us to more effectively and efficiently deploy resources, rapidly grow our presence outside the U.S. and continue to relentlessly innovate. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity ahead, and I am confident in our ability to accelerate our positive momentum and better serve consumers."

Freer is departing Hulu after a little more than two years as the company's chief and several years on the company's board in his previous role as president and COO of Fox Networks Group, where he earned a reputation as a strong operator through his oversight of revenue, distribution, operations, business development and strategy for Fox TV Group, FX, Fox Sports and National Geographic. He also led rights acquisitions for Fox Spots and oversaw negotiations with the NFL, MLB and NASCAR. 

Hulu's board selected Freer to replace Mike Hopkins as the company's CEO in 2017. He saw the streamer through a period of significant subscriber growth as it grew its base by around 68 percent to 28.5 million paid members as of September.

"I am grateful for my time at Hulu and the opportunity to work and learn with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of people," Freer said in a statement. "I also want to thank Kevin and the Walt Disney Company, as well as NBCUniversal and Fox, for providing me the opportunity to lead Hulu during a time of tremendous growth and significant industry transformation. Hulu has established itself as a leading choice for consumers looking for the best TV service available today, and I am confident Hulu will thrive inside Disney under DTCI’s leadership and resources."

As part of the change, leaders at Hulu will report directly to Disney's direct-to-consumer and international division leaders. Freer will remain in his role for the next several weeks to help with the company's integration. 

Hulu launched in 2010 as a joint venture of several major entertainment companies as a response to the growth in viewing of free video programming on platforms like YouTube. Over time, the U.S.-only streamer has become a rival to Netflix with a robust library of licensed programming as well as a growing slate of originals including The Handmaid's Tale, PEN15 and Ramy

But Hulu's fate has largely been in the hands of its corporate owners, which at one time included Disney, Fox and NBCUniversal. Disney acquired a majority ownership stake in Hulu with its purchase of the Fox assets and then negotiated a deal with rival NBCU in May 2019 that would allow it to assume full operational control over the business while NBCU kept a large minority ownership stake. 

Disney now views Hulu as a key piece of a three-pronged streaming strategy led by family-friendly Disney+ and sports-centric ESPN. While the services currently come bundled together at a discounted price, Hulu was the lone streamer that wasn't fully integrated into the rest of Disney's direct-to-consumer operations. As Disney seeks to turn its streaming investment into a profitable business, integrating Hulu — which has been expensive to operate — is key. 

Already, the company had moved oversight of Hulu scripted series under Disney TV Studios chairman Dana Walden. Further, it announced in November that Disney-owned FX would begin programming a new content hub dubbed FX on Hulu, giving FX head John Landgraf significant influence over what content becomes exclusive to the streamer.