Hulu’s 2017 roadmap includes live TV, interactive ads and lots of original content

Hulu has greenlighted a second season of The Handmaid's Tale. / Getty Images for Hulu

Like Bloomberg earlier this week, premium streaming service Hulu is getting into live TV with a new service announced at NewFronts, which the brand actually calls an Upfront because, per a rep, “we're technically TV - premium long-form content from the top broadcast and cable networks - as well as originals”.

New live content

This new live TV offering – available as of May 3 – includes more than 50 live and on-demand sports, news, entertainment and kids’ channels, along with the existing premium streaming service for $39.99 a month.

The company also announced an agreement with lifestyle media brand Scripps Networks Interactive to bring its networks, including HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network, to Hulu.

Like Hulu’s existing offering, the live TV beta service will be available across Internet-connected devices, a release said. The new service begins rolling out May 3 on Apple TV (4th Gen.), Xbox One, iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as Chromecast. More devices including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Sticks and Samsung Smart TVs “will be supported soon”, the brand said.

Chief executive Mike Hopkins said Hulu has a history of pushing the boundaries of technology and entertainment and driving the TV experience forward and called the live offering Hulu's “biggest move yet”.

New interface

But Hulu is also adding what Hopkins called an “elegant, cinematic, personalized interface” as Hulu “[changes] how you experience TV”.

According to the release, this includes setting up personal profiles and picking favorite TV shows, news channels and movies.

“The more a viewer watches, the more tailored the service gets, adjusting its recommendations based not only on the content they consume, but also time of day and which device they’re using,” the release added.

All subscribers to the Hulu with live TV beta plan will have access to Hulu’s new interface. Hulu subscribers who do not opt for live TV will be able to access the new interface on Xbox One, Apple TV (4th Gen.) and Android mobile devices as of May 3, the release said.

New ad products

The new user experience and live streaming service bring additional advertising opportunities as well, including dynamic ad insertion so viewers will see the freshest ad from a given advertiser no matter when they play content back, said Peter Naylor, senior vice president of advertising sales at Hulu.

Alluding to streaming rivals like Netflix and Amazon without actually naming them, Naylor said Hulu supports ads “because they are part of TV history”.

What’s more, Naylor said Hulu is bringing interactive ads to the living room in partnership with advanced TV advertising firm BrightLine on ads that will allow viewers to engage directly inside commercials – and even order movie tickets through their TVs after watching trailers.

“Exclusive to Hulu at launch, BrightLine’s T-commerce ad unit will offer viewers the opportunity to engage directly inside a commercial with a personalized, location-based overlay, where viewers can select a movie theater, time and purchase movie tickets all through their connected TV,” a release said.

The release said the brand plans to enable similar capabilities for other categories like retail and quick service restaurants in 2018.

Paint company Benjamin Moore is one of the first advertisers to sign on for this opportunity.

In addition, Naylor said Hulu will offer 360-degree ads for both mobile and living room viewing.

And, starting this fall, advertisers will have access to a validated measurement product across screens because Hulu has partnered with Nielsen to extend audience measurement tool Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) to viewers.

“With more than 47m total unique viewers, as measured by ComScore — 32m of which opt for ad-supported content — Hulu’s DAR solution brings accurate, holistic measurement to its advertising partners,” the brand said in a release.

Through this product, Hulu said it can get complete measurement of viewership to streaming campaigns across all connected devices and verified by a third party source. Nielsen’s methodology will tag, collect and calibrate the data, leveraging Hulu’s first-party subscriber data and other third-party sources as the foundation for measurement. Magna, Horizon Media and GroupM are among the first agencies to adopt Hulu’s DAR product.

In addition, Hulu said it will begin to offer sales effectiveness measurement tools through partnerships with television insights provider SambaTV and Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a “purchase-based ad targeting and return on ad spend measurement firm”. Both partnerships are a part of Hulu’s larger initiative to help brands measure whether their products or services were sold based on an ad exposure on Hulu, the brand said.

Echoing other NewFronts presentations, Naylor called Hulu a “brand-safe environment”, noting Hulu has a viewability score of 93% - versus the industry average of 56% - but Hulu only charges for ads viewed to 100% completion.

New content

But this is meaningless if viewers aren’t watching, which is in part why Hulu is invested in expanding its lineup.

Per Hopkins, consumer engagement has never been higher – with total streams up 50%, including Hulu’s more than 3500 film and TV titles, as well as original content. The latter includes the eagerly anticipated The Handmaid’s Tale, which premiered April 26 and was the largest premiere in Hulu history, Hopkins said. As a result, Hopkins said Hulu has already greenlighted a second season.

And, per Craig Erwich, senior vice president and head of content, streaming of its exclusive acquisitions is up 80% and the brand will soon add series like FX’s Atlanta.

However, Erwich called Hulu originals the brand’s “crown jewel” and said this has higher completion rates than anywhere else on Hulu, which will include Sarah Silverman’s I Love You, America later this summer, as well as Marvel Runaways, Future Man, The First and Hard Sun, in addition to The Looming Tower, Castle Rock and, of course, the Mindy Project.

See here for more reporting from NewFronts.

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