Disney Has Big Plans for Hulu

Hulu may be losing millions in equity for its corporate parents, but that isn’t stopping The Walt Disney Co. from dreaming big going forward about the 11-year-old SVOD service and online TV platform.

Disney, which attributed $10 million in Q4 equity losses to higher programming, marketing and labor costs at Hulu, partially offset by growth in subscription (20+ million) and advertising revenue, will become majority (60%) owner of the SVOD when its acquisition of 20thCentury Fox Film Corp. is finalized.

Hulu’s other corporate owners include Comcast (30%) and WarnerMedia (10%).

Speaking Nov. 8 on the fiscal call, Disney CEO Bob Iger thinks Hulu’s sub growth, brand strength and user demographics portend an opportunity to increase investment in Hulu – especially on programming.

“With this [Fox] acquisition comes not only some great IP, but some excellent talent, particularly on the television side,” Iger said. “And we aim to use the television production capabilities of the combined company to fuel Hulu with a lot more original programming … [content] that we feel will enable Hulu to compete even more aggressively in the marketplace.”

Specifically, Iger cited Hulu’s younger user base – apparently 20 years younger than competitors Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – and penchant for off-network content.

“And that’s clearly attractive to advertisers, which I think has been somewhat underappreciated about Hulu in that it … can offer targeted ads,” Iger said.

Hulu’s base $7.99 subscription plan features ad-supported content, while the $11.99 plan is ad-free. Iger says the service – especially the $39.99 Hulu With Live TV – has some price elasticity of demand.

“I think there’s an opportunity to improve – or I should say increase our pricing there,” he said.

Notably, Iger envisions Hulu focusing on general and edgier entertainment (i.e. Fox’s “American Horror Story” and R-rated movies), with Disney+ catering to softer fare.

“We’ll leave the more family-oriented programming to the Disney+ app,” he said.

Hulu Hires Heather Moosnick as SVP of Content Partnerships

Hulu Oct. 30 announced the hiring of former YouTube TV executive Heather Moosnick as SVP, content partnerships.

Moosnick assumes the vacant content partnerships position following the departure of Chief Content Officer Joel Stillerman last summer. She begins Nov. 12  reporting to CEO Randy Freer.

Craig Erwich, SVP, content, remains head of original content, alos reporting to Freer.

“Heather is a highly strategic, creative and relationship-oriented executive who has spent her entire career driving change and innovation,” Freer said in a statement. “As Hulu looks to transition television from a gatekeeper-driven experience to one that’s led by the consumer, Heather’s leadership and fearless approach to evolving antiquated business rules make her a perfect fit for our team.”

At Google/YouTube, Moosnick spearheaded global business development for the launch of online TV service YouTube TV, including affiliate and network agreements. Previously, she worked with record label relationships for the launches of YouTube Music and YouTube Premium.

Sling TV Subscriber Growth Slowing

Dish Network Aug.3 reported that its pioneering online TV service, Sling TV, ended the second quarter (ended June 30) with 2.344 million subscribers – marginally more than the 2.3 million subs reported at the end of Q1.

The satellite TV operator launched Sling TV in 2015 as the first standalone online TV service, and first platform offering access to premium TV channels outside of the traditional linear bundle, including ESPN.

The market now includes Sony PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Philo TV, Spectrum TV Plus, Hulu Live TV, Fubo TV and AT&T’s WatchTV.

Dish said it added 41,000 Sling TV subs in the Q2, down from about 91,000 sub additions in Q1. The company closed Q2 with 10.653 million Dish TV subs. When combined with Sling TV, Dish ended the period with 12.997 million total pay-TV subs compared to 13.332 million pay-TV subs in the previous-year period.

Indeed, Dish lost 335,000 net subscribers in the period compared to 196,000 subs in the last year’s period. Lone improvement: annual monthly churn rate dropped to 1.46% versus 1.83% for second quarter 2017.

 

Fox/Disney Cite Hulu in Arguments Against Comcast Bid

NEWS ANALYSIS — Apparently, 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Co. really don’t want Comcast to buy the former’s 20th Century Film and British satellite TV operator Sky businesses no matter how many billions the cabler puts on the table.

Fox, which is run by Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan — in a regulatory filing — said Comcast’s $65 billion all-cash offer faces too many regulatory hurdles. Instead, it believes Disney’s competing $71 billion cash/stock bid poses fewer risks.

“While a potential Disney transaction was likely to receive required regulatory approvals and ultimately be consummated, a strategic transaction with Comcast continued to carry higher regulatory risk leading to the possibility of significant delay in the receipt of merger consideration as well as the risk of an inability to consummate the transactions,” the company said in the filing.

However, Comcast made its offer for Fox the day after a federal judge rejected similar antitrust issues and ruled in favor of AT&T’s $85 billion merger with Time Warner.

Included in the competing Disney/Comcast offers is controlling interest in Hulu, the money-losing SVOD service and adjunct online TV platform. Both Disney and Comcast would have 60% control of Hulu should either consummate the deal. Currently each company (along with Fox) has a 30% stake, with AT&T’s WarnerMedia owning 10%.

Hulu was a key issue to regulators when Comcast acquired NBC Universal in 2011. The DOJ at the time worried so much that Comcast could thwart rollout of over-the-top video that it mandated the company “relinquish its management rights in Hulu,” among other provisions. It also ordered Comcast make NBC Universal content available to Hulu “that is comparable” to the programming Hulu obtains from Disney and News Corp. (now 21st Century Fox).

Indeed, in a June 20 investor call, Disney CEO Bob Iger reiterated those concerns.

“What is also clear to us is that in the vertical concentration issues that I’ve talked about, this is a great concern to the DOJ,” said Iger.

With the OTT video ecosystem no longer in its infancy (hello, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video!), and Disney planning to roll out its own branded SVOD service in 2019, Fox contends regulators would have fewer issues with Disney controlling Hulu.

Which is precisely why the issue is moot, according to Rich Greenfield, media analyst with BTIG Research.

“Given that Hulu has been dwarfed by Netflix and Amazon on the SVOD front and trails well-behind other virtual MVPDs such as Sling and DirecTV Now, we find it difficult to imagine why greater Hulu ownership by Comcast would concern the DOJ in 2018,” Greenfield wrote in a June 26 note.

The analyst believes Comcast not only has the financial resources to top Disney’s offer, but smoother regulatory path as well.

“We continue to believe that if the DOJ is worried about reduced competition and higher consumer prices, with less choice in bundles, Disney/Fox is far more concerning than Comcast/Fox,” Greenfield wrote.

 

Hulu Revamps Management, Company Structure

Looking to shake up its internal management structure, Hulu has hired a new chief technology officer, its first chief data officer and realigned the subscription streaming video platform into four operating segments, among other changes.

Notable in the reorganization is the departure of chief content officer Joe Stillerman and Tim Connolly, SVP of partnerships and distribution. Stillerman had been with Hulu for just a year after joining the company from AMC Networks. Also leaving is Ben Smith, SVP, experience, who is retiring in July.

Hulu is conducting a search for a head of the new content partnerships group and is eliminating the CCO position.

“Ben, Tim and Joel have all played a significant role in getting Hulu to the strong position it is in today. They will forever be a part of Hulu’s success story, and we wish them the very best in their next endeavors,” CEO Randy Freer said in a statement.

The company’s original programming and relationships with creators, producers and studios will now operate as a dedicated business function led by SVP of content, Craig Erwich, who reports to Freer at the company’s Santa Monica, Calif.-based headquarters.

Other business segments include technology & product, “subscriber journey,” advertising, data & analytics. All of Hulu’s shared services functions — finance, legal, corporate communications and talent & organization — will continue operating as usual, reporting directly to Freer.

Hulu hired Jaya Kolhatkar, former SVP, global data and analytics platform for Walmart, as chief data officer. Kolhatkar, who begins July 2, will be responsible for elevating Hulu’s customer intelligence, implementing data governance and pushing the SVOD’s decision making based on data.

Dan Phillips, former COO at TiVo, becomes Hulu’s chief technology officer, responsible for aligning the company’s technical and product strategy. Philipps begins today (June 4).

Chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell assumes responsibility for “subscriber journey,” which includes acquisition, engagement and retention, to viewer experience and research, across all of Hulu’s business operations. In addition, this group will now oversee Hulu’s subscriber partnerships, including its relationships with Spotify and Sprint.

The advertising sales group continues to report to Peter Naylor, SVP of ad sales.

Hulu, which last month topped 20 million subscribers, continues to spend big attempting to bridge the gap with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

It lost $920 million in 2017 compared to a loss of $531 million in 2016. The fiscal loss is reportedly projected to reach $1.7 billion this year as original content (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Marvel’s “Runaways,” “Future Man,” and “The Doozers”) spending skyrockets.

The losses are primarily driven by continued investments in programming and marketing by Hulu’s four corporate parents 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Co., Comcast and Time Warner.

LG Adds Hulu With Live TV to Its Smart TVs

LG Electronics USA April 10 announced that its smart TVs now include Hulu with Live TV.

The updated user interface is available on all 2018 and 2017 LG Smart TVs with webOS, as well as select 2016 models.

“As interest in streaming live events continues to rise, we are offering LG smart TV owners a seamless solution that enables them to experience today’s pivotal cultural moments as they are happening from the comfort of their own home,” said Matthew Durgin, director of smart TV content partnerships at LG Electronics USA, in a statement.

Hulu with Live TV offers viewers access to live and on-demand programming from more than 50 top channels, in addition to the service’s on-demand streaming library with thousands of movies and shows. Hulu’s live offering gives viewers access to personal-ized sports experiences, as well as the opportunity to record live TV through the Cloud DVR option. Current LG TV customers with Hulu subscriptions may enjoy Hulu with Live TV by updating their subscription plan.

The 2018 LG Smart TVs with webOS are now available with the updated UI and access to Hulu with Live TV at retailers nationwide.

Sling TV Tops 2.2 Million Subscribers

Dish Network Feb. 21 announced that its Sling TV unit ended 2017 with more than 2.21 million subscribers – up 47% from 1.5 million subs at the end of 2016.

Launched in early 2015, Sling TV was the first standalone online TV service, offering access to 20 pay-TV channels priced from $20 monthly without a contract.

The service was the first to offer ESPN outside the pay-TV ecosystem. The concept was so new (Disney licensed ESPN as an experiment) that a blank screen aired during commercial breaks – underscoring marketers’ unfamiliarity with the distribution channel.

Today, online TV represents an alternative to cord-cutters and ongoing erosion of pay-TV households in the Netflix-fueled, over-the-top video era.

Other online TV platforms include PlayStation Vue ($40-$75), DirecTV Now ($35-$70), Spectrum TV Plus ($30), YouTube TV ($40), Hulu With Live TV ($40), FuboTV ($45) and Philo TV ($16).