Tuesday, January 9, 2018, 11:10 PM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Hulu announced that it now has over 17 million subscribers including both its SVOD and live TV service. The last time Hulu publicly reported, in May, 2016, it had 12 million subscribers. So the 5 million increase translates to approximately 250K per month. Though Hulu didn’t break out subscribers to its live TV service, which launched in May, 2017, assuming maybe 5-10% of its monthly gains are for live TV, then the traditional SVOD service is adding around 225K to 240K subscribers per month.
The only SVOD services that are gaining more than this amount on a monthly basis are Netflix and Amazon, but to be fair both operate internationally, while Hulu is only in the U.S. For the past 4 quarters, Netflix added 5.27 million subscribers in the U.S. alone, or approximately 439K per month, roughly double Hulu’s monthly rate. Amazon does not reveal any subscriber numbers for its Prime service or standalone Prime Video SVOD service. Hulu also said its total audience is 54 million total unique viewers; Netflix’s and Amazon’s are unknown.
Hulu also spent far less on content that Netflix or Amazon. Hulu has said it planned to spend around $2.5 billion in 2017, whereas Amazon was estimated spend $4.5 billion and Netflix $6 billion.
Hulu’s content investments translated into its on-demand library increasing to 75K episodes across 1,700 different titles, which Hulu believes is over twice as many as any other service. Hulu has also emphasized originals - though not to the same extent as Netflix and Amazon - but it did distinguish itself by winning the Outstanding Drama Emmy for “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 2017, a first for an SVOD service.
Hulu also said its ad revenue hit $1 billion for the first time in 2017. Hulu continues to offer its “limited ads” option for $7.99/month and its no ads option for $11.99/month. Hulu didn’t provide an update on how many subscribers opt for each plan, but way back in late 2015, former CEO Mike Hopkins said the “vast majority” preferred the limited ads option. I always found it surprising more didn’t pay the extra $4/month to avoid ads given the popularity of ad-free viewing on Netflix and Amazon. Hulu also said its median viewer age is 31 with annual household income of $92,000.
Taken together, Hulu seems to have established itself as the clear #3 player in the SVOD market, which continues to grow strongly. Given Hulu’s ownership structure and its owners’ sometimes divergent strategies, the company has always had an element of drama around it. That is sure to continue in 2018 as Disney would become a 60% owner assuming its deal to acquire parts of Fox is approved.
But with Disney planning to launch its own entertainment-oriented SVOD service in 2019, how it and Hulu would be aligned is an open question. One potential resolution would be for Disney to exit Hulu entirely, potentially leaving Comcast, which inherited its stake via its acquisition of NBCUniversal, as the sole owner. But of course Comcast has consistently shied away from launching a national OTT service, so it’s not clear whether the company would have an appetite to ramp up its investment in Hulu.
All of this means that despite Hulu’s growing subscriber momentum, its future remains as murky as ever.