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Little Fires Everywhere

Hulu turns 12 this year, touting over 25 million subscribers in the US, a growing library of original content and a slew of award-winning shows. As one of the early players to the streaming game, the company is coming up against some stiff competition as more services join a crowding marketspace in hopes to turn audience eyeballs and wallets.

We catch up with Julie DeTraglia, VP & head of research and insights at Hulu to discuss what her team has learned about consumer streaming habits, the far-reaching influence of “favorite shows,” why linear and non-linear TV will continue to co-exist and how Hulu is rising above the competition.

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How have streaming services changed the way we consume content?

One of the most interesting stats I’ve seen is around bingeing. We know that 50% of the sessions of our top 100 shows are binge sessions—meaning people are watching three or more episodes of that show’s series in one sitting. If you break that out by genre, in drama people average about 2.7 in a binge session, for comedy it’s like 4.7 and for adult animation it’s about 5. That’s all connected to the length of the show. When you look at it, it’s a night of prime time which they are just programming themselves.

Hulu has a mobile app and we have a lot of viewing that tend to be shorter. I think we will continue to see mobile viewing grow; it’s grown for us. We did a focus group a while ago about mobile viewing and one of the guys turned up early, so to fill the time he sat in his car and watched 10 minutes of the show he had been bingeing. And we see that’s how people generally use their phone.

What are consumers looking for in streaming services?

Content is a big one. Six of the top 10 “must-haves” are content related. These include quality of show, favorite show, excusive show, movies, etc. But people each define those things slightly differently and that’s the hardest thing to figure out. People often say they want “current,” but we noticed that people might not be after “current;” instead they want “new to you”. My favorite example is [Hulu] started steaming Golden Girls in 2017 and that’s a show over 30-year-old about old ladies—the median audience age for that show was under 30-years-old and they binged watched it from start to finish as soon as we put on that service. People are still discovering so much other content. And besides content, [consumers are looking for] price and experience.

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The Handmaid's Tale
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Are there any overarching habits people have when it comes to watching TV today?

We found that consumers have their go-to platforms (thankfully Hulu was in the mix). They put a lot of emphasis on the shows, including a better way to organize how to keep track of what they’re watching. And the other thing is learning about a new show. The Handmaid’s Tale is a good example, where people know it’s on its third season and for people who haven’t seen it, they need to keep hearing about it. They have to see it in their Facebook feed, they have to read about it in a “best of TV” article, they need to know it’s won awards and they need their friends to talk about it. I don’t think we can identify what types of content are really trending right now I think everyone is watching a little bit of everything.

As more streaming services take off there appears to be bidding wars on classic TV shows. How important is it to include a popular series as part of the package?

We see it in our service that there is a lot of rewatching and a lot of ending every night with an episode of “this” show. About a year ago we started questioning the importance of “favorite shows.” Most famously Warner Media took back Friends from Netflix after Netflix paid $100 million to keep it for one more year. That tipped Netflix’s cards for how important that show is to them. We tried to understand if that one show is enough to get someone to subscribe to a new service or to cancel Netflix and how many of those shows are out there. We found that there were only about four shows that have more than 3% commonality of “favorite show”, which we defined as a show you can watch over and over again and they are Friends, The Office, Big Bang Theory and Seinfeld. No one is certain of the impact moving a “favorite show” is, but when Friends goes to HBO Max I think the five month gap of not having Friends will get filled by another show. It’s a good show and it’ll always be a good show, but I don’t know if that’s enough for someone to make a commitment to get another streaming service.

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What influences Hulu’s original content?

We want shows that rise above the fray and that can be through the creators we work with or the cast. A great example is our next big show coming out on March 18, 2020, Little Fires Everywhere which is based on a popular novel. It’ll feature Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, and when you have a cast like that it’s hard to ignore.

We also want shows that feature voices that aren’t seen in many places, that can break into the cultural (I hate this word) zeitgeist. Some great examples include Aidy Bryant in Shrill, which is in its second season, and Ramy, which just won a Golden Globe. That’s been our overarching theme. We don’t have nearly as many originals as Netflix (they release about 80 a month); we’re trying to toe that line to make sure we have enough to feed the beast (the consumer) and stuff that is really different and breaks out and sets us apart.

Another thing we’re branching out into more is documentaries. We just announced our Hilary Clinton documentary. We announced Hulu Kitchen with a couple of shows featuring David Chang and Chrissy Teigan. We recently signed with Greta Thunberg and are working on a documentary with her which we announced at the end of last year. We’re getting more in the unscripted game because we know that’s very popular content and we want to make sure we have something for everyone.

As more streaming (OTT) services take off, will this be the death of traditional television?

Well, about 80% of the country (USA) has some form of linear TV. Live television is still very important. There is still something about that collective experience where people want to watch TV together and be part of a cultural conversation. I think it’ll be a very long time before people aren’t watching live TV.

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