UPDATE, Wednesday, 5:13 AM PT: Hulu will now accept political issue ads, a change in the policy of the streaming platform after Democrats chided the company for rejecting spots on abortion and guns.
In a statement, The Walt Disney Co., parent of Hulu, said, “After a thorough review of ad policies across its linear networks and streaming platforms over the last few months, Disney is now aligning Hulu’s political advertising policies to be consistent with the Company’s general entertainment and sports cable networks and ESPN+. Hulu will now accept candidate and issue advertisements covering a wide spectrum of policy positions, but reserves the right to request edits or alternative creative, in alignment with industry standards.”
Hulu had previously had a policy prohibiting ad content “that takes a position on a controversial issue of public importance (e.g. social issues).” It would accept spots for political candidates and campaigns, but they were to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The executive directors of the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted the company after Hulu refused to stream ad spots on abortion and guns.
PREVIOUSLY: Leaders of three top Democratic committees blasted Hulu for its decision to reject advertising spots on abortion and guns, calling out the streaming service for “censorship of the truth.”
The spots — here and here — were turned down, with Hulu citing a long standing policy to reject spots related to controversial issues. Its guidelines prohibit “content that takes a position on a controversial issue of public importance (e.g. social issues).”
In a statement first made to the Washington Post, the executive directors of the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said, “Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country. Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ agenda on issues like abortion — and Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people by blocking voters from learning the truth about the GOP record or denying these issues from even being discussed.” The three committees called on the company to reverse the policy. A spokesman for the DGA said on Tuesday that they had not heard back from Hulu “and they still have our money.”
Hulu and its parent company, The Walt Disney Co., have not commented, but a source familiar with the situation cited the streamer’s policy, noting that it applied not just to abortion and guns but other controversial topics.
No election cycle passes without candidates and campaigns seizing on an outlet’s rejection of one of their advertisements, something that inevitably calls more attention to the spots in question. But Hulu’s rejection of the spots reflects the growing attention to streamers’ policies when it comes to political advertisements, as they are given more leeway to reject such spots than are broadcasters, who are bound by FCC rules set by federal statute. (Stations are all but bound to run spots from candidates, but they have leeway when it comes to issue ads.)
The prohibition on such topical advertising spots is likely to become even more of an issue as campaigns increasingly look to streaming services to reach voters, in particular younger voters. But platforms have different policies. The non-subscription platform Pluto TV in the Washington, D.C. area is full of issue ads, many of them from lobbying groups trying to reach lawmakers about controversial legislation. The subscription platform Peacock, meanwhile, lists “controversial issue and political advertising” as among the categories of spots that require review by NBCUniversal at least 72 hours before streaming.
Hulu’s policy does say that they will review on a case-by-case basis certain political ads. That was the case with Suraj Patel, running for Congress in New York. He protested after submitting an ad spot that made mention of abortion, guns and climate change. In a letter he shared with the site Jezebel, he wrote to Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Hulu president Joe Earley, claiming that his campaign received a call from a Hulu representative, explaining that there was an “unwritten policy” to not include topics considered too “sensitive.” He noted that TV and cable outlets accepted the spot.
He also wrote that given the decline in cable subscriptions, “your network is a key source for information and entertainment for many viewers in the country.” Patel later told the Washington Post that the ad ran after his campaign made edits to it, replacing the words “climate change” with “democracy” and substituting footage of the attack on the U.S. Capitol with a shot of Donald Trump. Later, though, Hulu contacted his campaign to tell him the original spot would be accepted, according to the Post.
Hulu evaluates how they review candidate ads, with candidates given greater flexibility to explain their positions, the source said. Although those guidelines are not disclosed, they do reserve the right to ask for edits.
Disney ran into a political buzzsaw earlier this year over a Florida law that restricted K-3 teachers from talking about sexual orientation and gender identity, legislation that came to be known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. After initially declining to weigh in on the bill, the company reversed course and condemned it, leading to the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, to lead an effort to strip Disney of its special district status at its Florida theme parks.
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