Congratulations are in order for Mike Hopkins, the Fox Networks distribution chief who is leaving 21st Century Fox to take the CEO job at Hulu. There’s a $750 million check from the joint venture’s overseers, 21st Century Fox and Disney, waiting on his desk, an infusion they made upon reversing their decision to sell Hulu. But cushy as the job sounds, Hopkins can’t get too comfortable; he needs to move fast on setting the priorities that will put some fresh momentum behind Hulu.
1. Get the owners rowing in the same direction.
Disney and 21st Century Fox were known to be at loggerheads over how to change the Hulu business model from its current hybrid structure, which is split between ad-supported video and a monthly subscription. Disney was said to favor the former while 21st Century Fox wanted the latter. While Hopkins’ appointment could be interpreted as 21st Century Fox getting its way, don’t be so sure the companies won’t continue with the hybrid model.
While Comcast doesn’t have control over Hulu as a condition of its NBCUniversal acquisition, Hopkins has got to get the remaining two owners on the same page for the first time in years if he’s to pull this venture together. Complicating matters is there’s still an outside chance Hulu will allow another stakeholder to take a piece of the business for the right price. If there’s going to be yet more cooks in this already crowded kitchen, Hopkins better make damned sure they are all working off the same recipe.
2. Pick—and stick with—a strategy.
Hopkins may be going into this reading 21st Century Fox’s playbook. Fox has always been the most conservative in its approach to Hulu, imposing an eight-day delay on most of its broadcast content on Fox.com for those who don’t have a subscription to participating pay-TV providers, in contrast to the traditional next-day access. The road forward for Hulu could be an extension of that strategy, positioning the site as a branded portal for the TV Everywhere experience, a big contrast to the scattershot approach to pay-sub multiplatform viewing Hopkins knows all too well from his time in the affiliate-sales trenches. It’s a vision not so different from the one that Liberty Media chairman John Malone recently suggested the pay-TV operators do themselves. But this would be a programmer-controlled version without the distributors themselves holding the reins.
3. Time to bid big against Netflix.
$750 million is a tidy sum, but nothing gamechanging for Hulu given the billions being spent by Netflix on original and licensed programming. Amazon isn’t spending on Netflix levels, but every once in a while it steps up and steals away top content like “Downton Abbey.” The subscription VOD sector is not going to get any less competitive, so the time has come to fight for exclusive rights to truly in-demand programming as Hulu did every once in a while years ago. If having the content companies as owners can’t facilitate some of the best stuff getting steered to their own venture, what was the point of keeping Hulu anyway?
4. If you’re going to do original programming, do it right.
Hulu has actually done plenty of original series in its own right, from scripted comedy “Battleground” to animated series “The Awesomes,” but nothing that has attracted anywhere near the attention of something like “House of Cards.” That may have something to do with the fact its programming budgets are said to be low, but as Netflix has proven, there’s no sense in even trying original programming if the content doesn’t make a splash. Hopkins needs to decide whether this is a place Hulu is going to continue to play, and if they do, how to spend their money smarter. Hulu is better left saving what little money it has to spend on one big project than frittering funds away on several series that don’t move the needle. If Hopkins is lucky, it’s already in place in the form of Hulu’s first studio-produced series: “Deadbeat,” a 10-episode comedy from Lionsgate, set to premiere next year.
5. Stop the bleeding
Hulu has hemorrhaged top talent in the months since original CEO Jason Kilar stepped down. Job 1 for Hopkins is not only to put a stop to that exodus but define a culture for the company going forward. That culture may be far from the hub of innovation Hulu was in its first years, but the company needs to send a clear signal as to its identity for both consumers and potential employees.