Hulu's Original Content Will Get a Big Boost Under Disney

Having just one corporate overlord could be just the thing Hulu needs to go to the next level.

Danny Vena
Danny Vena
Jun 19, 2019 at 10:00AM
Technology and Telecom

For much of its existence, it was difficult for Hulu to have a unified strategy. Its corporate parents included Disney (NYSE:DIS), Comcast, and 21st Century Fox -- which each owned a 30% stake -- while AT&T owned 10%. The resulting corporate tug-of-war meant the company never really knew who or what it was.

In recent months, Disney acquired most of the assets of Fox, AT&T sold its stake back to Hulu, and Comcast and Disney inked a deal giving control of the streaming service to Disney.

Now that a single entity controls Hulu, much of the uncertainty that's plagued the company over the years will give way to a unified strategy. One of the biggest changes viewers can look forward to is much more of the original programming that's served Hulu so well.

Patricia Arquette and Joey King in a scene from the Hulu original series The Act.

Patricia Arquette and Joey King in a scene from the Hulu original series The Act.

The only constant is change

In a CNBC interview, Hulu CEO Randy Freer said the company's "investment in original programming will increase significantly" under Disney. Freer also said being controlled by a single entity offered "clarity," something the streamer hasn't had in the past. "Now, there's clarity of voice, there's clarity of objective ... clarity around our strategic plan and what the next couple of years look like."

Freer was also excited about the potential for contributions from Disney itself: "We now have access to the best creators in the world. When you look at the capacity inside of The Walt Disney Company to create content, the [intellectual property] that's there, the access that we'll have ... is terrific."

An already successful run

Hulu had already developed a wildly successful original-content strategy. Original Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale took home the Emmy Award for best drama series, making it the first streaming service to boast that lofty achievement. Excluding documentaries and unscripted series, a review of the 26 Hulu original series on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes -- consisting of those with more than four critics' opinions -- found an average score of 82%, both with critics and with audiences alike. That's an impressive result, considering the number of programs.  

Hulu's success with its original programming seems destined to continue. The company previously announced at the Hulu '19 presentation in May that it had expanded its partnership with Marvel to include two new live-action series, Ghost Rider and Helstrom. Marvel Television and ABC Signature Studios will co-produce both series. That's in addition to the recently announced collaboration to create four Marvel animated series for adults, including M.O.D.O.K, Hit-Monkey, Tigra & Dazzler Show, and Howard the Duck. The four shows will culminate in Marvel's The Offenders, a superhero team-up event.

No one can serve two (or more) masters

A look at Hulu's recent results shows just how successful the company has become. Hulu boasted a subscriber base of 25 million to close out 2018, a 48% year-over-year increase. Ad sales for the period grew by 45% to top $1.5 billion, a record for Hulu. That growth has continued into this year. At the Hulu '19 presentation, Hulu said its subscribers sped past 28 million, adding 3.8 million new subscribers in the first quarter alone -- twice the rate of its largest rival Netflix.

What's even more impressive is that Hulu was able to achieve these results while serving more than one master. With a more unified strategy under the control of Disney, and a commitment to invest in more original programming, Hulu will probably see its results improve -- as will Disney's by proxy.