Streaming service expects to hit 12 million subscribers by end of May
Hulu is bringing back sitcom “The Mindy Project” for season five and drama series “The Path” starring Aaron Paul for a second run, and has secured rights to Ron Howard’s feature-length Beatles documentary.
The announcements are part of the Internet TV service’s slate of programming and new ad initiatives, unveiled Wednesday at the Hulu Upfront presentation at Madison Square Garden Theater.
In other news, Hulu announced a pact with Live Nation Entertainment to launch select concert performances in virtual reality — promising a you-are-there immersive experience for music fans — and detailed new advertising partnerships with Nielsen, Millward Brown and BrightLine.
Hulu will reach 12 million paying U.S. subscribers by the end of May, representing 30% year-over-year growth, according to CEO Mike Hopkins, crediting the service’s mix of originals, broadcast and network TV show pickups, and movies for drawing in users. Netflix, by way of comparison, had 47 million U.S. subs as of the end of March.
Hopkins, on stage at the event Wednesday, confirmed Hulu’s plans to deliver a live-TV package, including sports and entertainment, in 2017. The company, which is owned by Disney, 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal, has been in talks with its parent companies and others for the service but Hulu is not providing additional details at this point. Hulu’s cable-like service is expected to cost around $40 per month.
“We’re going to fuse the best of linear TV and on-demand, in a deeply personalized experience,” Hopkins said.
Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week” (working title), slated to debut in theaters and on Hulu this fall, marks the first documentary feature to premiere exclusively on Hulu after a theatrical run. The film, Hulu’s first licensing deal with Apple Corps Ltd., will launch under the new Hulu Documentary Films arm, which will procure premium original and exclusive documentary titles.
“The Beatles: Eight Days A Week,” featuring rare and exclusive footage, is produced with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison. White Horse Pictures’ Nigel Sinclair, Scott Pascucci and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment are producing with Howard. Apple Corps’ Jeff Jones and Jonathan Clyde are serving as executive producers, along with Imagine’s Michael Rosenberg and White Horse’s Guy East and Nicholas Ferrall. The film is based on the first part of the Beatles’ career, from 1962-66, the period in which they toured and captured the world’s acclaim.
Comedy series “The Mindy Project” is coming back to Hulu for season five. It’s been a hit for the Internet-streaming service, which picked up the show after Fox canceled it last year. The single-camera sitcom, created by and starring Mindy Kaling, follows a skilled OB/GYN navigating choppy waters of both her personal and professional life. “Mindy Project,” from 3 Arts Entertainment in association with Universal Television, is executive produced by Kaling, Howard Klein, Matt Warburton, Charlie Grandy and Michael Spiller.
“We have had the freedom to try new things that would not fly on broadcast,” Kaling said about her experience with Hulu, citing a scene in which her character shoots breast milk in someone’s face and the ability to say the word “tits.”
Hulu also announced a second election special from “Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog” that will debut exclusively on the service later in 2016, following the first special from the foul-mouthed dog puppet. Robert Smigel will return as the voice and creator of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog for the brand-new special that will premiere just in time for the November election.
For Hulu, growing its originals slate is a key imperative as it faces aggressive competition from Netflix and Amazon for both customers and content. Hulu’s original programming lineup includes recently announced dark comedy “Shut Eye” starring Jeffrey Donovan and KaDee Strickland; psychological thriller “Chance” starring Hugh Laurie; and an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” starring Elisabeth Moss.
Hulu also has been bidding for exclusive rights to TV shows: Its most-watched television pickup to date is AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead,” and the network’s “Preacher” graphic-novel adaptation from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg will soon be coming exclusively to the service as well, said Craig Erwich, Hulu senior VP and head of content. Last year, Hulu inked an exclusive output deal with AMC and has a similar deal with FX Networks.
Hopkins said the new slate will push Hulu to new heights in 2016. The service streamed more hours during the premiere week of “11.22.63,” the JFK assassination time-travel drama from J.J. Abrams based on Stephen King’s novel, than any single week in 2015, according to Hopkins. He also noted that 70% of Hulu users watch the service on TV, and that most subscribers continue to choose the $8 monthly plan with ads instead of the commercial-free $12 option.
Hulu warmed up the crowd of ad and media execs with high-energy comedic turns from Amy Poehler, Julie Klausner, Billy Eichner of Hulu’s “Difficult People,” as well as Abbi Jacobson Ilana Glazer of Comedy Central’s “Broad City” and Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey and Tara Lynne Barr, stars of Hulu original series “Casual.”
Quipped Eichner: “The N-word at this upfront is ‘Netflix.'”
Pushing further into the VR world, the Hulu VR app will add Live Nation’s content to immerse fans in the visual and auditory environment of a live, virtual performance. (Timing of the VR content launch and featured artists will be announced later.) Fans will get to hang out backstage with artists before the show, experience the thrill of walking onstage as crowds cheer and get the best seat in the house for the beginning of the performance.
“No medium has the potential to bring the magic of a live concert to life more than virtual reality,” said Jordan Zachary, Live Nation’s chief strategy officer.
Since Hulu launched its VR app in March, it has added six pieces of additional virtual-reality content, including a piece featuring “The Path” and content from partners TheirWorld and RYOT (acquired last month by AOL). The Hulu app is available for the Samsung Gear VR headset with additional platforms to come soon. According to Hulu, the average time spent with the VR app is 12 minutes.
On the ad-tech front, Hulu announced a partnership with interactive-ad firm BrightLine to be the first streaming service to deliver interactive advertising units built exclusively for connected-TV devices. Havas Media will be the exclusive charter agency for the new interactive-ad product, expected to launch on Hulu this summer.
“The interactivity we’ve known for years on the PC is now coming to the living room,” said Hulu SVP of sales Peter Naylor. “TV really is the new ‘new media’ of today.” He also touted Hulu’s coveted demographics: The service’s viewers have a median age of 33, and 84% of subscribers are 18-49.
With Nielsen, Hulu unveiled a new collaboration that will enable digital ad measurement through Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings to capture OTT viewing in the living-room environment for the first time across devices including Roku, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, Apple TV and all Hulu-enabled connected-TV devices. Through the partnership, Hulu said it will be able to deliver an accurate measure of viewership beyond the PC for advertisers on a campaign-level basis.
And Hulu announced a deal with market-research firm Millward Brown to deliver studies, research papers and stats including brand affinity metrics for marketers and advertisers spanning OTT environments. IPG Mediabrands’ Magna Global, whose clients include Arby’s, Aveeno, BMW, Coca-Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts and IHOP, will be beta partners at launch.
Hulu also highlighted two brand-integration campaigns. In season two of Jason Reitman’s comedy “Casual,” Goose Island Beer Company is weaving in one of its beers into the storyline: Goose Island IPA is the favorite beer of Alex (Tommy Dewey). In season four of “Mindy Project,” Mindy’s newly redesigned Lexus RX lets her and her friends make a quick getaway in a special trip to Mindy’s alma mater, Princeton.
In a recorded video segment, Ron Howard and Paul McCartney presented a preview clip of “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week,” with the former Beatle saying the film brought back great memories of the group’s early days. Hulu closed out the event by playing the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Hulu reps said about 2,700 people attended the upfront.