Hulu has officially unleashed its horse in the crowded virtual pay-TV race.
The streaming-video provider announced the beta launch of Hulu With Live TV, priced starting at $39.99 monthly for around 50 channels. The service includes ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC programming — with the availability of local TV stations varying by market — and cable nets including ESPN, CNN, Fox News, TBS, TNT and Disney Channel. Showtime is available for $9 extra.
Hulu, which broke the news at its upfront presentation Wednesday in New York City, also announced a new agreement with Scripps Networks Interactive to add networks including HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network to both Hulu’s new live service and existing premium streaming offering. Under the pact, Hulu now offers full seasons of Scripps Networks series in the VOD service.
“Hulu can now be a viewer’s primary source of television,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins. “It’s a natural extension of our business, and an exciting new chapter for Hulu.”
Also at its upfront, Hulu also announced the renewal of “The Handmaid’s Tale” for season 2 plus orders for Marvel’s “Runways” teen superhero series and Mars-mission drama “The First,” from “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon.
In addition, Hulu will become the exclusive subscription streaming home to NBC’s hit primetime drama “This Is Us,” senior VP and head of content Craig Erwich announced. It also landed exclusive SVOD rights to FX’s breakout freshman comedy series “Atlanta,” starring Donald Glover.
Missing from Hulu’s live TV menu: HBO, AMC Networks, Viacom’s Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and other nets, Starz, and Discovery Communications channels. The company said additional premium network add-ons will become available soon.
Another catch: While local TV stations will be available in the service across the U.S., Hulu won’t offer all four major networks everywhere. Local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC broadcast nets are available in L.A., New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago. In other markets, Hulu With Live TV will have holes in the lineup; the company says it’s working to cut deals with station groups and will add more local channels over time.
By calling it a “beta,” Hulu is able to set a lower bar for customer expectations for the live TV offering — in the event that the service suffers some early hiccups. It’s currently available on Xbox One, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices, with more device support to come.
The Hulu With Live TV service includes content from the four major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC (again, local stations will vary) — and cable networks including ESPN, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Sports, MSNBC, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, TNT, Bravo, E!, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, A&E, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Disney Channel, Freeform, FX, History, Lifetime, National Geographic, TBS, USA Network, and Viceland. It also carries regional sports networks from Comcast and Fox in several markets. (See the full channel lineup here.)
For Hulu, owned by Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Time Warner, the move into the virtual pay-TV space is an attempt to capture dollars from consumers looking for a more affordable “skinny” bundle. But it now puts Hulu in direct competition with the cable, satellite and telco TV distributors that are its parent companies’ biggest customers.
Hulu With Live TV will compete against a slew of other internet-delivered packages, including Dish Network’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV Now and Google’s YouTube TV.
Hulu execs believe its over-the-top pay TV bundle can stand out with its slick new interface and personalization features. They also tout the value of Hulu’s existing premium streaming library: The $40-per-month base live television package includes the 3,500-plus TV and movie titles in Hulu’s current $7.99 monthly plan that includes commercials. (An ad-free option for the VOD library costs an additional $4 per month.)
The live TV service lets customers create up to six personal profiles, with each member of the household able to pick their favorite TV shows, news channels and movies. As they watch more content, the service learns about their preferences to adjust recommendations based not only on the content they consume but also time of day and which device they’re using.
One nifty feature: Sports fans can follow their favorite major pro and college teams — and Hulu will find and record those games live (subject to availability). Hulu also offers “Kids Mode,” parental controls to restrict a specified profile to only child-appropriate programming.
The $40 monthly Hulu With Live TV plan includes 50 hours of DVR recording storage, with up to six individual profiles and two simultaneous streams per account. In the baseline package, ad breaks in the DVR recordings aren’t skippable. Also, Hulu will offer advertisers the ability to update their spots in DVR recordings dynamically, regardless of when the show was recorded, senior VP of ad sales Peter Naylor said.
It’s angling to upsell customers who want more than that. Hulu’s Enhanced Cloud DVR option (an extra $14.99 per month) provides up to 200 hours of recording storage and more powerful cloud DVR capabilities, allowing them to record as many shows as they want to at the same time and watch from anywhere. The premium DVR add-on also lets users fast-forward through ads.
In addition, Hulu’s Unlimited Screens option (also $14.99 monthly) provides as many simultaneous streams as users’ broadband connections will sustain, and three concurrent streams outside the home. For $20 per month, Hulu is offering the Enhanced Cloud DVR and Unlimited Screens together (for a $10 discount).
Initially, the service is accessible on Microsoft’s Xbox One, Apple TV (fourth generation), iOS and Android mobile devices, and Google’s Chromecast. Hulu says it will soon add support for other devices including Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, and Samsung Smart TVs.
In the pitch to advertising execs, Hulu said it now has more than 47 million total unique viewers, as measured by comScore — 32 million of which opt for ad-supported content. (Note: That’s a measures of total viewers, not subscribers.) Meanwhile, under a new deal with Nielsen, Hulu said advertisers will have access to Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) across connected-TV devices starting in the fall of 2017, to provide a validated measurement solution across screens. Media buyers Magna, Horizon Media, and GroupM have all signed off on Nielsen’s DAR, according to Naylor.
And the company pitched marketers on the new ad inventory it has with the OTT live TV service — the standard 2 minutes of local breaks per hour on cable networks that are available to pay-TV distributors.
Other news and notes from Hulu’s upfront, held at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan:
- Hulu was eager to portray “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the dystopian drama starring Elisabeth Moss it’s bringing back for a second season, as a smash hit. Hopkins said it was Hulu’s biggest-ever premiere, and Erwich gushed about it multiple times in his presentation. But neither exec offered any metrics to back up the claims of the popularity of the show, based on Margaret Atwood’s bestseller.
- Hulu’s subscriber base had a median age of 33 and average household income of $84,000 — which SVP of sales Peter Naylor said gives it most affluent TV audience anywhere.
- Hulu will launch “T-commerce” interactive ads in partnership with BrightLine that will let subscribers purchase movie tickets through their connected TVs. The on-screen purchasing capabilities will expand to other categories like retail and quick-serve restaurants in 2018, according to Naylor.
- Hulu’s overall viewing metrics are up: Hours per subscribers have grown 20% year over year, while total streams have risen 50%, Hopkins said. Most Hulu viewing is on connected TVs — accounting for 75% of usage — with 16% on mobile devices and 9% on desktop PCs.
- Alec Baldwin is joining the cast of Hulu’s “The Looming Tower” 9/11 drama, guest starring as CIA director of central intelligence George Tenet, Erwich announced.
- Sarah Silverman, whose “I Love You, America” comedy series from Funny or Die will hit Hulu this summer, told the crowd: “Folks, we did the research. Investing in this show is probably a terrible idea.” She then added, “But f— it, all your decisions are kind of a gamble, right?”
- Seth Rogen, whose projects at Hulu include sci-fi comedy “Future Man,” noted in a pre-recorded sizzle reel that advertisers pay only for ads that reach 100% completion, “which sounds kind of gross.”
More info on Hulu With Live TV is available at hulu.com/live-tv.
Watch a video demo of Hulu’s live TV service and interface: