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Hulu to Spend $2.5 Billion on Content in 2017

Hulu is spending a bundle on programming this year: Its content budget for 2017 is around $2.5 billion, CEO Mike Hopkins said Thursday.

Hopkins, speaking at an event at the Paley Center for Media in New York, also revealed that Hulu plans to launch seven new original series in the next 6-9 months. The streamer’s buzziest original to date is “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which snared 13 Emmy nominations this year.

But even at $2.5 billion, Hulu is in third place in the subscription-video race — fighting to land top-tier TV series and licensing deals against rivals who are throwing even more money into premium content. Netflix says it’s spending around $6 billion on content this year, and is pegging $7 billion next year. Analysts estimate Amazon Prime Video’s programming budget at $4.5 billion.

It’s worth pointing out that Hulu operates only in the U.S., while Netflix and Amazon are distributed globally. Hulu’s spending may or may not be on par with its rivals’ (if that’s prorated for the U.S.). But the fact is, the trio are competing for the same content rights and original series, and with their worldwide reach Netflix and Amazon have an advantage in deal negotiations. At the same time, in some cases Hulu’s bidding solely for U.S. rights gives it an edge because studios don’t always want to limit their potential international upside by doing a global deal.

A Hulu rep emphasized that $2.5 billion represents “what we are spending in 2017. We haven’t discussed future years.”

On a per-subscriber basis, Hulu’s spending may be far outstripping Netflix. Hulu last disclosed that it had reached 12 million subscribers in May 2016; if that hasn’t grown substantially since then, that means Hulu is spending north of $200 per sub annually on content compared with Netflix at around $60 per sub.

One big difference between the two: Hulu is offering a live TV service, priced at $40 per month for 50-plus channels. And there are obviously considerable per-subscriber costs for putting together a live TV service. Hulu has deals with several big programming groups, including its four parent companies — 21st Century Fox, Disney, NBCUniversal and Time Warner (for Turner’s networks) — as well as CBS, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive.

How much traction Hulu’s live TV service is getting is unclear; the company hasn’t disclosed any numbers. While Hulu has touted its user interface and personalization features, the “virtual pay-TV” package competes with a slew of competitors (including the cable and satellite operators who are big buyers of content from Hulu’s parent companies). Other over-the-top TV streaming services in the U.S. include Sling TV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV and FuboTV.

In any case, Hulu has launched a new subscriber-acquisition push. This week, it debuted a national ad campaign featuring Anna Kendrick, best known for her star turn in the “Pitch Perfect” movies, who promises in the launch spot that Hulu is “going to change your life.”

Also at the Paley event, Hopkins also called out the $5 bundle Spotify-Hulu bundle for students, saying the response has been “tremendous” since it launched last week. He reiterated that Spotify and Hulu are developing other packages aimed at a broader market.

Pictured above: Hulu original series “The Handmaid’s Tale”

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