The CEO of Hulu Will Now Take Your Questions

INSERT DESCRIPTIONJason Kilar

There are three TV shows I have come to love even though I’ve never watched them on TV. Or on DVD. Or via iTunes. They are: Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Rescue Me. And they are all available — the complete catalog, whenever you want, in high-quality video, with a beautiful user interface — on my computer, for free, thanks to Hulu.com.

Hulu is a likely game-changer for TV, an ad-supported site with, as of a few days ago, programming from three of the four major networks (as well as movies and lots of other video programming). ABC (Disney) has just joined NBC and News Corp. (Fox) in a joint distribution/ownership venture that, for TV viewers at least, is a major win. Hulu’s mounting success is a growing threat to Apple’s iTunes as well as Google/YouTube. As NBC’s Jeff Zucker told The Times: “Advertisers have made it clear that they want a safe environment unpolluted by videos of cats on skateboards.” (And, I would add, a comments thread straight out of a swamp, or maybe a j.v. locker room.)

In the following ad, featuring Rescue Me star Denis Leary, Hulu claims to be “an evil plot to destroy the world,” but it may be one of those ads that exaggerates just a bit.

Jason Kilar, Hulu’s CEO, joined the company after nearly a decade at Amazon.com, where he wrote the original business plan for Amazon’s video and DVD business and became senior vice president of the company’s Worldwide Application Software. As he tells it, Hulu’s super-clean look and feel was inspired, in part, by his first trip to Disney World.

Kilar has agreed to take your questions, so fire away in the comments section below. As with past Q&A’s, we will post his answers here in short course. I will prime the pump with a few of my own:

1. Even just a year ago, and certainly two, Hulu was hardly an obvious choice to be the front-runner in the online TV space. What happened? Tell us about a few tipping points, or lucky breaks, or wondrous negotiations.

2. Tell us a bit about ad revenues. I have read that you “stomp” YouTube in terms of revenue per user and per program — easy to believe — but how much money is coming in? With only a few ads per program, it is hard to imagine that revenues are very robust — especially considering that digital ad rates in other media (newspapers, e.g.) are dwarfed by their traditional counterparts.

3. Because a TV program on Hulu typically carries ads from just one sponsor, the branding seems to make a bigger impression than if that one sponsor buys one spot among many sponsors. What can you tell us about how this single-sponsor dynamic works, from both the user and advertiser ends?

Addendum: Kilar answers your questions here.

COMMENTS: 85

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  1. greatone says:

    Mr. Kilar,

    Last year Direct TV partnered with NBC to co-produce “Friday Night Lights” and debut the new shows exclusively on Direct TV. With TV ratings for most shows falling, can you envision any scenarios where Hulu might partner with a network to keep certain shows alive? If so, what might such a partnership look like?

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  2. Quin says:

    My experience with Hulu has been excellent overall. But why do you show the same exact ad several times during one show? There are often multiple available ads for a particular product, and the ad is almost always boring the second time. This doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s best interest.

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  3. Jeff says:

    what is the long-term goal of Hulu?

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  4. Bladt says:

    1. What are you plans to expand into cable programming? Will new technologies be needed? Is there support/interest from the cable/satellite folks?

    2. What (if anything) is being developed to make watching Hulu easier on a television set. Is their support from the networks to make hulu more accessible in this method?

    Also, thanks for the service. I cannot recall the last time I watched a show live.

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  5. Magnus Falk says:

    What are the real problems with worldwide distribution of TV-shows? We europeans are a bitt miffed by now by all these great services that never seem to go outside the US.

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  6. Tim H says:

    I must admit that my own perception of Hulu is that it’s a sort of figurehead — a device essentially controlled by the networks which is allowed to operate on condition of that control. In other words, I’m concerned that Hulu only exists so that the development of an Internet-based video marketplace can be slowed and redirected to benefit the major networks. After the example set by the music industry it’s not surprising that the networks are terrified of a similar fate.

    Can we be provided with any assurance that Hulu has some kind of real independence? Do you have any negotiating leverage that can be employed when the networks make demands that are ultimately to the detriment of Hulu and its users? Can you see yourself doing something dramatic like pulling a whole networks’ shows?

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  7. Michael says:

    As a huge fan of Hulu and scripted television, I’m concerned that the revenue stream from internet video cannot support the budgets of non-reality network television. What is the future of big-budget original programming?

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  8. Casey Barker says:

    There seems to be an ongoing battle between Hulu and a number of media streaming device developers who are attempting to get Hulu content off of the computer and onto the living room HDTV. These devices only exist because they’re filling a desire of the market, and it seems certain that the device developers will find a way around whatever technical barriers Hulu erects. So why does Hulu fight this battle at all? Is Hulu concerned that the advertisement stream could be sidestepped, or does Hulu have its own plans for the living room?

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