NewFronts Debrief: Hulu

Mindshare’s Ashley Gordon, Associate Director, Digital Investment, shares her insights on yesterday’s Hulu Upfront.

  1. The big talent onstage:

Where do we begin?  After getting the (9AM) party started with legendary rapper/producer RZA (who’s producing a new Hulu series) on the turntable, Hulu spent the latter half of their event featuring a who’s who of Hollywood stars and cultural tastemakers. Some of them include:

  • Celebrity chef David Chang, as the curator of Hulu Kitchen content. This includes a partnership with Vox studios to create Family Style, co-hosted with model, author, and social media personality Chrissy Teigen (who was also in attendance and will develop additional shows for Hulu.)
    • George Clooney, Kyle Chandler, and Christopher Abbott: Executive Producer (Clooney) and stars (Chandler and Massey) of Catch-22.
    • Zoe Kravitz, who’s starring in the new version of High Fidelity.
    • Margot Robbie and Kat Dennings, as executive producer and star of Dollface.
    • U.S. Women’s National Soccer team players Abby Wambach, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, and Tobin Heath, starring in Hulu’s latest version of their “Sellouts” campaign, which features professional athletes and lampoons SponCon/obvious influencer marketing.
    • Mindy Kaling, as executive producer of the upcoming Four Weddings and a Funeral.
    • Reese Witherspoon, as executive producer of Little Fires Everywhere.
    • Kate McKinnon, as executive producer and star of upcoming series The Dropout, based on the life of Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos.
  1. The announcements that caught your eye:
    • Hulu has made significant investments in premium original content. Beyond the shows and stars listed above, they’re rolling out a variety of series rooted in beloved shows/franchises. They’re exploring a different corner of the Marvel universe with live-action shows Ghost Rider and Helstrom, on top of the four Marvel animated series currently running. In addition, Hulu is leaning into re-boots of 90s and early 2000s favorites with the return of Veronica Mars, as well as modern, diverse re-imaginings of popular 90s romcoms. In High Fidelity, Zoe Kravitz steps into the lead role previously played by John Cusack and Four Weddings and a Funeral features a multicultural cast led by Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel.
  • On a product level, Hulu introduced a “Viewer First” approach, debuting several ad products designed to increase audience engagement and provide brand experiences that feel more native to the platform.
    • Friends with Benefits: Easter eggs hidden throughout the platform that unlock offers from Hulu and brand partners.
    • RealReality: Allows users to interact alongside content.
  • Two new ad products developed as a result of behavior OTT has emphasized and mainstreamed – binge watching.
    • Binge Ad: Hulu identifies binge viewing behaviors (defined as watching three or more episodes of a single show in one sitting) and serves up a message or experience that is situationally appropriate (i.e custom offer or ad-free next episode).
    • Pause Ad: Launched in beta earlier this year with Coca-Cola and P&G’s Charmin, the pause ad serves a non-video ad when users pause content.
  • In addition to new products, Hulu is also implementing stricter limitations around ad frequency (no more than 4x/user/day) and pod length (capped at 90 seconds). And they’re addressing measurement challenges with the introduction of an attribution tool, measuring the impact of video ad exposure on purchase/downloads
  1. Implications for marketers:
    • Regardless of the platform on which it’s consumed, quality content will always be king. Hulu is building upon the prestige earned from its award-winning breakout hit The Handmaid’s Tale to recruit A-list talent, thereby upping the arms race for prestige, buzz, and ultimately viewer attention among premium content providers across linear and digital video. Brands looking to align with high profile, buzzworthy shows will likely find plenty of options with Hulu.
  • Hulu’s “viewer-first” ad product developments signal some maturation of the OTT space, offering brands the opportunity to appeal to viewers with non-intrusive ad executions, and offer more of a value exchange. The promise of more advanced attribution could open up investment opportunities for brands that are focused on lower-funnel metrics and ROI, and tend to pass on OTT due to lack of measurement.
  1. Challenges for the publisher:
  • Never before has viewing been so fragmented and options for quality content been so plentiful. Though Hulu is growing significantly—and now has over 28 million subscribers – it is just one of over 100 video streaming services with more on the way (hey there, Disney+). The average user subscribes to three streaming video services and has tons of options for free content, so competition for attention is fierce and subscription fatigue is becoming a real issue. ­
  1. What was different about this NewFront from the types of deals our digital investment teams do?
  • NewFronts is Hulu’s Upfront, and felt the most like a traditional broadcast upfront presentation with a heavy emphasis on star power and new shows. In fact, George Clooney kept referring to the event as an upfront and recalled his first experience 25 years ago as part of the cast of ER.

In a week filled with lots of content, sales pitches, and very little sleep, Mindshare is bringing you a debrief on some of the biggest NewFront events with the implications for marketers, the challenges for publishers, and more. Check back every day for more debriefs.