Hulu will soon see if its long-awaited live-television streaming service can stand out in the growing crowd of online live-TV options and help the streaming platform better compete against larger rivals like Netflix.
On Wednesday morning, Hulu announced the launch of the public beta version of Hulu with Live TV, which starts at $39.99 and allows users to stream live and on-demand programming from more than 50 TV channels running the gamut of live news, entertainment, and sports. The cost of the new service also includes access to Hulu’s existing $7.99 premium streaming subscription and access to the company’s library of archived content, which includes more than 3,500 film and TV titles. Subscribers to the new live service also get 50 hours of storage for recording programming, the ability to create up to six separate Hulu viewer profiles, and two simultaneous streams per account.
The launch comes days after Hulu announced that it secured the final major piece in its live-television puzzle in the form of an agreement with Comcast’s NBCUniversal to add several NBC- and Telemundo-owned channels to the Live TV lineup. That deal gave Hulu access to all four major broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. The deal did not come as a huge surprise considering Comcast is a co-owner of the streaming service, along with Walt Disney’s ABC, 21st Century Fox and Time Warner. (CBS Corp. is a content partner, but does not own a stake in Hulu.)
The new live service also includes popular cable networks such as CNN, ESPN, FX, Fox News, TBS, TNT, and the Disney Channel. The only premium cable network currently available on the new live service is Showtime, which costs an additional $8.99 per month. Cable networks such as HBO, AMC Networks, Viacom’s Comedy Central and MTV are among those not currently included in Hulu’s new service, though the company said on Wednesday that additional premium network add-ons will be available soon.
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Hulu announced the beta launch at its Upfronts presentation in New York—an annual event where media companies pitch their services to prospective advertisers. Hulu also revealed an agreement with the lifestyle-focused Scripps Networks Interactive for access to cable networks such as HGTV, the Food Network, and the Travel Channel.
“Hulu can now be your primary source of television, live and on-demand,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins told the audience at the start of the presentation.
Hulu’s glitzy show in the Theater at Madison Square Garden featured a cavalcade of Hollywood stars, including longtime Hulu star Mindy Kaling, director J.J. Abrams (who is producing the Hulu limited series Castle Rock), and Elizabeth Moss, the latter of whom is the star of what might be Hulu’s first breakout original series: the dystopian sci-fi drama The Handmaid’s Tale.
Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins took the opportunity to boast that the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, which began streaming last week, was the biggest premiere for any show in the streaming platform’s history (including acquired programming). Hopkins also announced that Hulu is green-lighting a second season of the buzzy drama.
More than just adding to the buzz for its new live service, Wednesday morning’s event was an opportunity for Hulu to pitch the live-TV offering to advertisers. The presentation began with a taped segment featuring comedian Seth Rogen rattling off jokes about targeting the “right” viewers (a.k.a. coveted younger viewers such as millennials), and the “sweet, sweet targeting” that Hulu’s service can offer to advertisers looking to engage with specific demographics. Later in the presentation, the company also discussed such features as personalized and interactive ad experiences in which viewers can engage with commercials aimed directly at them.
Ultimately, Hulu is hoping that its new service can compete with existing live-TV offerings from brands such as Dish Network’s Sling TV, Sony’s Playstation Vue, and Google’s YouTube TV by offering a simple and engaging interface along with its exclusive library of archived content. The company is hoping that the new service can help grow its subscriber base beyond its current level of roughly 12 million, which trails rivals such as Amazon Prime (80 million) and Netflix (nearing 100 million globally).
Hulu’s Hopkins ended his part of the presentation on Wednesday by calling the new service “everything TV should be, everything advertising can be,” adding: “Because, this morning, we launched the future of television.”
Hulu has been building up to this moment for quite some time, with the company announcing plans for the live-TV service a year ago. As Variety notes, Hulu’s decision to launch Live TV in beta could allow the company to more easily gloss over any hiccups that may come with the rollout of a major new service.