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Hulu grows to 12 million subscribers, prepares new interactive ads for living room TVs

TechCrunch TechCrunch 4/05/2016 Sarah Perez

This morning at Hulu’s Upfront presentations in New York, the streaming service announced it has grown its subscriber base 30 percent year-over-year, and will reach 12 million subscribers in the U.S. this month. For comparison’s sake, last year it had grown to 9 million subscribers after seeing a 50 percent increase over the year prior. In addition, the company also unveiled a slew of content deals and renewals, as well as its plans to capitalize on its advertising potential in the living room.

As it turns out, most of Hulu’s viewing now occurs in the living room. Hulu’s SVP of Advertising Sales, Peter Naylor, noted at this morning’s presentations that 70 percent of viewing is on the big screen.

That’s why the company has partnered with interactive advertising company BrightLine in order to bring what it calls first-to-market interactive ad units to the living room. The idea with these kinds of ads will be to allow consumers to click the ads and then visit another page or website, much as they could do on their desktop or mobile devices today.

The units will work on “connected TVs,” meaning not only smart TVs, but also sets that are connected to a streaming media player like Apple TV, Roku, PlayStation, or others.

A brief demo of the ads were shown live on stage, showing what look like clickable webpages but on the big screen.

The new ads will debut in the summer, says Hulu.

In another move that highlights Hulu’s attempt to become the streaming service that best mirrors traditional television, the company also unveiled a new collaboration with Nielsen that will allow for digital ad measurement through Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings. This lets advertisers to capture over-the-top viewing in the living room for the first time, and will include any viewing that takes place on living room devices.

Nielsen already runs a program to track show viewing on streaming services, including Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, but Hulu’s news is focused on campaign-level measurement in the living room, it clarified.

Hulu will also work with market research firm Millward Brown for studies, papers and stats for marketers and advertisers related to living room and over-the-top viewing. Magna Global, whose clients include Arby’s, Aveeno, BMW, Coca-Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts, IHOP and others, will be beta partners on that initiative.

Looking to reassure advertisers, the company also noted that its service is not affected by ad blockers, and the vast majority of its subscribers still chose the $7.99 per month ad-supported plan, versus the more expensive commercial-free tier at $11.99 per month.

It also offered details on its demographics, saying that its subscribers median age was 33 and 84 percent of subscribers were 18 through 49.

As far as Hulu’s content, the company announced it was renewing its drama series “The Path” for a second season and bringing back “The Mindy Project” for season 5. It said there would be a second election special from Triumph, the Insult Dog that will be exclusive to Hulu later this year.

And like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu will also be making the move to the silver screen this year. However, instead of producing its own film, it has secured the exclusive U.S. streaming rights to Ron Howard’s documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week” (working title), which will debut both in theaters and on Hulu this fall. The film is based on the first part of the Beatles’ career, up until 1966 when they were touring the world, and will offer a look into their inner workings.

This is the first documentary feature to ever appear on Hulu, following its theatrical run, and represents the company’s first-ever licensing deal with Apple Corps Ltd.

The deal is not a one-off, either, it seems – Hulu is launching the film under its new Hulu Documentary Films arm, which will become the new home for premium original and exclusive documentary film titles coming to Hulu.

VR got a brief mention as well, as Naylor said that Hulu’s VR offering launched in March was already seeing viewers engage for an average of 12 minutes at a time, while most VR apps see averages of 2 minutes. The company has also partnered with Live Nation to bring a VR music series to its app which will feature music and backstage access.

“Over the past year, we’ve propelled Hulu by adding an extraordinary array of original series, hit broadcast and cable shows and blockbuster movies to our content portfolio — all of which has led to incredible growth in subscribers and engagement,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins. “In 2016, we’re going even bigger and bolder. We’ll expand our offering with more premium content and brand new ad measurement products that will continue to make Hulu the leader in choice for seamless entertainment and advertising experiences.”

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