Plans for the transition leaked out last week, in addition to the news that interim CEO Andy Forssell would be leaving the company. The appointment comes months after owners 21st Century Fox, Disney and Comcast elected not to sell Hulu after putting the joint venture on the auction block for the second time in as many years.
Though Hopkins is a longtime News Corp. insider who has been with the company since 1997, he wasn’t on the list of candidates buzzed about in the early going.
“After an extensive search, Mike was simply the best candidate for the job. He has a strong understanding of programming, digital distribution and consumer behavior, and a great vision for Hulu’s next chapter,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group. (See press release)
Hopkins welcomed the Hulu staff in a blog post on the company’s site Thursday, noting that the company is approaching $1 billion in revenues for 2013.
“The fact is, through all the recent uncertainty not only have you kept this business together, but you’ve continued to deliver on every key performance metric. In fact, you are delivering one of the strongest years Hulu has ever seen,” said Hopkins in the blog post.
“On behalf of the Hulu board I want to thank Andy Forssell for his leadership during this past year, and for the vital role he played in building Hulu into the amazing product it is today. We wish him the best on his next venture,” said Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group. “With Mike’s appointment, and its owners fully aligned and committed to seizing the incredible opportunities that lie ahead, we look forward to a very bright future for Hulu.”
For Hopkins, the Hulu job represented an opportunity to get that CEO brass ring he had little chance of snaring at 21st Century Fox, where his path to the top is crowded by the likes of James Murdoch, Chase Carey and Rice.
In many ways, Hopkins was a surprise choice because he isn’t cut from the same cloth as the man he’s replacing, Jason Kilar. While Kilar was widely regarded as a visionary with a keen eye for perfecting the product, Hopkins is best known for his negotiation skills as 21st Century Fox’s man at the table across from the pay-TV distributors that provide the conglomerate’s biggest revenue source. A big job, to be sure, but not the type that charts the course forward for a brand still trying to feel its way around an uncertain future.
But if there’s anything to be read into Hulu’s board of directors choosing a longtime 21st Century Fox insider, it’s that he’s at Hulu to do a 180-degree reversal of Kilar, who futilely strove to establish some independence from its corporate overseers. Hopkins’ appointment may be a sign that the new era of Hulu will be one where it runs in lockstep with its board. But he could also figure out the middle ground between doing the owners’ bidding and veering so far away from them that it becomes counterproductive.