Hulu’s hallelujah, helped by ‘Hand­maid’s,’ hor­ror

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - By Wendy Lee

The num­ber of Hulu sub­scribers rose 48 per­cent to more than 25 mil­lion last year as view­ers tuned in to pop­u­lar shows such as “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” the stream­ing ser­vice an­nounced last week.

The sub­scrip­tion num­bers cover paid mem­ber­ships for Hulu’s on-de­mand stream­ing ser­vice and its live-TV plans in the United States.

“Con­sumers have spo­ken loudly about their de­sire for more choice and con­trol in their TV ex­pe­ri­ence,” Hulu CEO Randy Freer said in a state­ment. “They are see­ing the enor­mous ben­e­fits of stream­ing, they’re de­cid­ing which con­tent and brands are most im­por­tant to them, and they’re choos­ing Hulu.”

Al­though the growth is no­table, the num­ber of Hulu’s sub­scribers is still far from Net­flix’s more than 58 mil­lion in the United States and 78.6 mil­lion in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Hulu said its most pop­u­lar show re­mains “The Hand­maid’s Tale,” a story of a dark so­ci­ety where fer­tile women are forced by a gov­ern­ment to give up their jobs and fo­cus on birthing chil­dren. The sec­ond-high­est­per­form­ing show in reach and con­sump­tion is hor­ror se­ries “Cas­tle Rock,” Hulu said.

In 2018, the com­pany said, its ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue rose more than 45 per­cent to nearly $1.5 bil­lion, and its ad­ver­tiser base in­creased 50 per­cent. Last year, Hulu be­gan sell­ing ads on shows down­loaded by its sub­scribers, giv­ing ad­ver­tis­ers the op­tion of reach­ing peo­ple who are aban­don­ing tra­di­tional pay TV and sub­scrib­ing to pro­grams that typ­i­cally do not show com­mer­cials. The Santa Mon­ica com­pany said that over the past year, it worked to improve its ser­vice, ex­pand­ing the num­ber of ti­tles in its li­brary to more than 85,000 episodes, in­clud­ing those from shows such as thriller “Killing Eve” and sit­com “Su­per­store.” Hulu also said it re­duced buffer­ing (which can slow the con­nec­tion) on its live TV ser­vice by 90 per­cent, and gave sub­scribers more op­tions to pay ex­tra to add on net­works such as Starz.

Hulu’s monthly sub­scrip­tions for its on-de­mand ser­vice start at $7.99 with ads, and be­gin at $39.99 for its pack­age in­clud­ing Hulu and live TV.

Hulu said the me­dian age of its view­ers is 32, far younger than the av­er­age broad­cast TV viewer.

Wendy Lee is a Los An­ge­les Times writer.

Ge­orge Kray­chyk / Hulu 2018

Elis­a­beth Moss plays Of­fred in “The Hand­maid's Tale,” which re­mains Hulu’s most pop­u­lar show.

Dan Good­man / As­so­ci­ated Press 2015

Hulu had lots of growth in 2018, but its sub­scriber base is still far be­low that of ri­val Net­flix.

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