Hulu has reversed a decision that caused a Democratic congressional candidate to make changes in a political ad, but the streamer’s advertising content policies remain unclear to media buyers.
On Monday afternoon, Hulu contacted the campaign of Suraj Patel, a Democratic candidate for Congress in New York City, to say that the streaming service would run the original version of the ad after all.
The campaign had changed the ad to get Hulu to accept it, substituting “democracy” for “climate change” and replacing footage of violent Jan. 6 insurrectionists with footage of former President Trump. Hulu — which does not publish its guidelines —reportedly rejected the original ad because it contained too much content about “sensitive” issues like abortion, gun laws and climate change.
The reversal followed coverage by Jezebel and other media outlets of Hulu’s censorship, and a protest letter sent to Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Hulu President Joe Earley by Patel, in which he argued that blocking ads that take on crucial issues is a significant disservice to American voters—particularly the younger ones who can be best reached through streaming services.
Following the flip-flop, Patel issued a statement thanking Hulu “for allowing Americans to know about the most pressing issues of our day.”
A source familiar with Hulu’s policies told The Washington Post that Hulu had decided to take the original ad before Monday, but had not yet informed Patel’s campaign.
The source also said that the company’s advertising guidelines, which are not publicly released, prohibit all ads that take a position on controversial issues, even if they are not political ads, and that ad edits are sometimes recommended based on case-by-case ad reviews.
Hulu recently adjusted its policy implementation to give candidates greater flexibility to explain their positions, and it does take ads that reference abortion and gun violence if they are “in context,” according to the source.
However, Disney and Hulu have not publicly addressed the advertising issues, and Patel is by no means the only candidate or political entity being affected by Hulu’s unpublished policies.
Democratic campaign committees are also angry about having ads rejected by Hulu, reports the Post.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Governors Association tried to buy joint ads on abortion and guns with Hulu on July 15, but the ads never ran—even though the same ads did run on a Disney-affiliate channel in Philadelphia and the Disney-owned ESPN channel.
“Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country,” the executive directors of the committees, Christie Roberts, Tim Persico and Noam Lee, said in a statement. “Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ agenda on issues like abortion — and Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people by blocking voters from learning the truth about the GOP record or denying these issues from even being discussed.”
Disney has already announced that its soon-to-launch ad-supported tier of Disney+ will not take political ads, or ads for alcoholic beverges.
Netflix, which is also set to launch an ad-supported tier, in early 2023, has not made any public statements about whether it will take political ads.
Issues around political speech and misinformation were already increasingly contentious in social media, with some conservatives arguing or proposing measures to stop platforms from moderating and rejecting some content, and some liberals arguing that platforms should be compelled to implement more stringent and consistent moderation.
The issue has also come to the fore as part of the still unresolved saga of Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter, due to Musk’s statement that he would lift Twitter’s ban of former President Trump if he took ownership.