Hulu Pay-TV Bundle Hits 800K Subscribers

Randy Freer Hulu

Hulu has nearly doubled the number of subscribers to its “skinny bundle” pay-TV service over the past six months, reaching 800,000 paying customers, according to CEO Randy Freer.

The Hulu chief provided the estimate during an interview with CNBC. The company, which is controlled by 21st Century Fox, Disney and NBCUniversal, with Time Warner also owning 10%, disclosed earlier this spring that it has 20 million total customers, most of them signed up for the Hulu SVOD service.

Hulu with Live costs about $40 a month for a selection of channels. Like other skinny bundles, it is available with no annual contract and can be added or dropped with relative ease online. That easier opt-in/opt-out functionality has enabled skinny bundle providers to achieve scale, but also keeps churn much higher than it is for traditional MVPDs protected by contracts, equipment rentals and stricter credit checks.

At 800,000 subscribers, Hulu is on track with the company’s original internal projections. It lags behind the levels of leading virtual MVPDs such as Dish’s Sling TV’s 2.2 million or DirecTV’s 1.5 million, but Hulu is ahead of internet rival YouTube’s TV offering by a six-figure margin, according to insiders.

Google reps did not immediately reply to Deadline’s email seeking current subscriber numbers. The company has never divulged subscriber numbers, but Wall Street analysts and rivals have pegged it to be in the range of 500,000.

In January, about a year after launching the service, Hulu said it had about 450,000 subscribers.

The growth of skinny bundle services has increased as technology and a mushrooming array of direct-to-consumer offerings has accelerated cord-cutting trends. As Sanford Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger detailed in a recent report about YouTube TV, the real brass ring for skinny bundle services is leverage in the TV advertising arena. “Instead
of marketers saying ‘I want to buy a spot on SportsCenter,’ marketers will now be saying “I want to buy 1 million impressions against left-handed women who like golf,” he wrote.

Ad targeting and the sense that all content will eventually be streamed has intensified the scramble for established digital assets. Hulu’s three-way ownership structure appears to be on the way out one way or another, as Fox is in discussions with both Disney and Comcast about the sale of most of its assets, including the Hulu stake. It isn’t completely clear how a majority-owned Hulu would operate. But many investors and media observers have speculated that if Disney prevails with its Fox bid, Hulu could wind up being the platform that drives the company’s stated plan to substantially boost its direct-to-consumer offerings and compete directly with Netflix.

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