Agencies and their brand partners have basically one message for Hulu’s new owner, whoever that ends up being: please don’t ruin it.
But they fear it may already be too late.
Generally speaking, despite all the management consternation and sale rumors over the past few years swirling around Hulu, buyers love the property for its TV-like quality, its audience and uncluttered ad load. And most doubt that Hulu users care much whether Peter Chernin or AT&T is calling the shots.
But if a new owner such as DirecTV radically changes what Hulu is—favoring the service for its own programming or pushing Hulu as a TV everywhere outlet for its own subscribers—that could make Hulu far less attractive to brands.
That goes double if more networks start cutting exclusive deals with the Netflixes and Amazons of the world to stream their shows before Hulu gets its shot. In other words, if Hulu isn’t Hulu anymore, its users and advertisers may bail.
“I’m a big fan of Hulu as they've built an amazing brand and user experience,” said one buyer. “I’m hoping if a deal happens, the acquirer tries to keep the business model intact though I highly doubt it.”
"For now, the never-ending sale talk hasn’t effected the way Hulu operates,” said Adam Kasper, chief media officer, Havas Media, North America. "I don't think it is impacting usage, and thus we are not looking at it differently. Once it is sold, if the product changes or the way it is sold changes, it likely could."
One fear some buyers have is that Hulu’s new owner could crank up the ad load, altering what has been a very clean experience. “That would be a bummer,” said Donnie Williams, chief digital officer at Horizon Media. “Hulu has always worked really hard for us.”
Williams concurred that Hulu’s business has run smoothly of late, despite the fact that the company currently has an interim CEO. But he did note that Hulu’s post NewFront business has only begun dialing up, as the company had to wait in line for the broadcast upfront to unfold.
That’s because Hulu’s broadcast partners, ABC, Fox and NBC, have been pulling back more inventory from Hulu than in the past, and selling it as part of their own TV upfront packages, said Williams. That left Hulu uncertain about just what the company had to sell.
“Inventory has been constrained,” said Williams. “But we continue to look to spend more and more with them.”
For now at least.