At Hulu, In With The Old, And In With The New, Too

I don’t know why I found it so funny, at Hulu’s NewFronts presentation, to hear Craig Erwich, the senior vice president for content, declare: “We’ve always been the place for TV fans to get the best of last night’s television.” I suppose it’s because on the face of it, that seems like such a hollow boast, like a consignment shop that brags it’s got the widest selection of secondhand threads.

But it’s no doubt true about Hulu, which is a message it wanted to get across--Erwich said it as a way of announcing that Hulu landed deals to air fresh repeats of “Empire,” (that’s a big deal) and “Adult Swim” properties and others from Turner Broadcasting and FX, and SVOD rights to future AMC programming. 

What a peculiar thing, when you think about it: Hulu Peter Naylor, the senior vice president of sales, noted that because Hulu ads can’t be time-shifted, it is more advantageous for advertisers to put their messages on the second-showing window than on the original broadcast, where, often, viewers DVR the show and watch it later while skipping through the blurbs.

For Hulu, “It’s not C3 or C7,” he said, referring to the Nielsen time-shifting measurements. “It’s see now.”

What a nutty circumstance for programmers and consumers. It was alluded a little later when Jerry Seinfeld appeared on stage to quip about his 20-year-old TV series, sold now to Hulu for an enormous (possibly $180 million?). Seinfeld pointed out that a fan could buy the boxed set (for $64.49 on Amazon), but he said, as if he found the situation perplexing: “I guess people really didn’t want to do that.” And he profits from that. 

It is a pretty different world. His series is thoroughly from the past, though the last episode aired “just” 15 years ago. But, he told a fan, if the show was being made today, "What reason would Kramer ever have to come in? No reason. So you’d lose all those entrances! He’d just text me, you know, ‘Do you want Chinese?' " 

Now, that would be a show about nothing.

What’s impressive about Hulu now is not just the new reruns and old reruns. Mike Hopkins, the CEO, said that "2015 is the year that Hulu will break out. We are investing significantly in content and tech. We're hired an army of the brightest engineers to bring a better, simpler and more personalized experience." 

It has a big list of series, and also, it was announced at NewFronts, is dropping the Hulu Plus moniker, seemingly at the same time, as Hopkins notes, so many pluses are being added.

People can still purchase the pay service, but the name won’t be there. The pay version has 9 million subscribers, up 50% from a year ago, and you have to wonder: With so many online video distributor going SVOD, couldn’t Hulu be moving from a service that was free at its core to one that emphasizes a pay subscription?

After all, you can also see old series on Netflix and Amazon, and in both cases, their old is a lot older than Hulu’s old. Won’t consumers pay for that, even with commercials? Isn't that the evolving mode of premium online video? We’ll see.

Hulu does seem to adding value, minus the Plus. Its  content additions includes stars and box office big names like James Franco (he’s been a part of three NewFronts so far, in this case for his starring role in Stephen King’s “11/22/63”), Jason Reitman, Jason Katims, Amy Poehler, Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner.  

Poehler, who concocted the upcoming  “Difficult People” sitcom starring Klausner and Eichner, paid her respects to the newly dead. ”Our condolences to the Plus in Hulu Plus," she said. Klausner added, "We thought it had the potential of the dot in 7Up." 

But Eichner summed up the dichotomy of Hulu now. He took mock-offense to some earlier speaker’s proclamation that he wanted to make a television show like nothing that’s ever been on television before.

Not so! said Eichner. Hulu, he pointed out, is built on television that’s been seen before. “We want to make a show that is exactly like what’s been on television before."
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