Andy Forssell's appointment as interim CEO at Hulu isn't necessarily a surprise, but it does suggest that Hulu is worried about one thing and one thing only at the moment: license agreements.
Forssell's previous post at the digital video giant was svp of content acquisition and distribution; for all the company's trumpeting its in-house material, its bread and butter is and may always be over-the-top content from partners Disney, NBCUniversal, and News Corp.
Disney and News are "currently finalizing their forward-looking plans," according to an email to staffers from Jason Kilar, the outgoing CEO, which can't be something Forssell relishes inheriting from his old boss. Still, it makes sense to put him in the driver's seat: in his previous position, Forssell would have overseen content license fees, windows for new shows, and embeddable content—all the stuff that makes Hulu a better proposition for major media (including CBS, though the network doesn't have a stake in the company, opting instead to split ad rates and simply distribute) than YouTube.
"Andy exemplifies the Hulu culture and has been central to Hulu’s journey, helping to grow this company from 2 content partners and no revenue to over 450 content partners and approximately $700 million revenue in 2012," said Kilar in an email praising his successor. "In his role, Andy has built strong relationships with many of our Board members. Andy has the Board’s strong support in leading the team during this important time."
He'd better hope so—run well, Hulu is essentially a license to print money. Ad sponsorships on the site are taken more seriously than pre-roll on user-generated sites and command much CPMs, and the company's Hulu Plus subscription service has a full 3 million members after less than three years of operation. It operates across platforms more effectively than would-be competitors like Ultraviolet or other "TV everywhere" initiatives hamstrung by onerous authentication requirements.
But it's also owned and operated by three competitors who would starve trying to order a pizza. Providence Equity Partners, the private equity firm that shared a stake in Hulu with Disney, News and NBCU, was in some ways the glue holding the content creators together; after a management buyout of Providence's stake last year, it's not clear that the three remaining partners enjoy the venture all that much.
Kilar was widely regarded as a svengali who was able to keep everyone happy while running the company competently, but more than one report speculated that he wanted to go somewhere that would require less parenting. Forssell's stock in trade is keeping content providers happy. If he can continue to to do that, Hulu's next iteration may be a more peaceful one.