Joe Earley, the president of Hulu, never misses an opportunity to flex his marketing skills. While discussing the ongoing trend of subscribers leaving streaming platforms (also known as churn), Earley said he’s noticed one exception to the rule in bundles that Hulu offers alongside access to Disney+ and ESPN+.
“The churn is so low on the bundle, so we want as many people to subscribe to it as possible, because they’re happy, they stay longer,” Earley said, before adding that “it is still an unbelievable price of $13.99,” to laughs from the audience.
Earley discussed Hulu’s strategy (and perhaps solicited some new subscribers) in conversation with Cynthia Littleton, co-editor in chief of Variety, at the Variety Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte.
As a veteran of the industry with more than two decades of experience, Earley spoke about the many skills necessary for success in the streaming wars. From on-set production jobs to being a publicist for “The Simpsons” at Fox Entertainment, Earley said all of his experiences converge at Hulu, which is still a relatively young platform.
A key difference between the old and new guard of television, Earley said, is subscription models. While a cable subscription has been historically difficult to cancel, streaming subscriptions can be purchased and canceled impulsively.
“We’re going to enter a new age of serial churning or certainly increased churn,” Earley said. “How do you get them back or keep them in? Marketing.”
Earley said he believes Hulu offers one of the most varied selections for consumers. From the aforementioned bundles to subscriptions with ads, without ads, with a live TV option or without, he said choice is paramount to convincing subscribers to stick around. Hulu also has an advantage in its siblings, with Disney+ and ESPN+ offering content that complements that of Hulu. He specifically cited an episode of “Pam and Tommy” that includes a raunchy creation of VFX, something that would never be appropriate for Disney, but feels right at home on Hulu.
“Real separation from the Disney brand is appreciated at the enterprise level,” Earley said. “It’s great because we are complementary. Content on Hulu has edge, you know, [it’s] a little bit darker, really complex characters, storytelling… Having been at Disney+ for three years, I fully comprehend the positive aspects of clarity of what goes where.”
Disney+, created in 2019, is a “toddler,” Earley said, which means there is also an advantage in mining the data of the more-established Hulu, which has existed since 2007. Earley called the data set of Hulu “enormous,” and referred to the streamer’s target demographics as “taste segments,” rather than just ages or ethnicities. He cited”The Kardashians” as an example, which has offered some surprises in its viewership.
“‘The Kardashians’ is surprisingly in some segments we wouldn’t have called,” Earley said. “Previously, I would just roll my eyes and sort of be like, ‘Humans rule the world, “Terminator” is going to be a documentary if we let the algorithm win.’ But now I see what it does, and I see how it really helps content. It surfaces content that wouldn’t otherwise surface.”
In the future, Earley said he’ll be watching the rise of FAST (free, ad-supported streaming TV) channels, as well as a growing need for curation options for consumers who have too many options to choose from.
“One, two, three years from now, the competition should all need to be profitable or growing,” Earley said. “We’re already there. So we know that struggle. All of the new entrants, who are still enjoying the rapid growth of entering the market, are then going to have to… transition to a more mature streaming offering.”
He continued, “All of these offers are going to continue to be there. It’s just finding a way to make it easy for the consumer to get what they want, when they want.”