Hulu Rolling Out Binge Ad Format This Year, Making Original Food Shows With Chrissy Teigen

Streaming service orders Nicole Kidman series based on book from Big Little Lies author

Hulu is reuniting Nicole Kidman with her Big Little Lies writer David E. Kelley for new series Nine Perfect Strangers. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

As Hulu’s subscriber base expands yet again, to 28 million, the streaming service is rolling out a new ad format that its broadcast and cable peers can’t compete with: an offering specifically targeted at binge viewing.

The streaming service revealed the new offering—which it calls the industry’s first binge advertising experience—today at its NewFronts event, held at the New York location that bears its name: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

During the celeb-packed event—which included appearances from George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, Chrissy Teigen, Kate McKinnon and Mindy Kaling—Hulu also unveiled plans to create a food vertical with  Teigen and chef David Chang, ordered a new series starring and produced by Nicole Kidman based on a book from Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty, picked up two new Marvel live-action shows and greenlit a limited series starring Saturday Night Live’s McKinnon as disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

Peter Naylor, Hulu’s svp and head of advertising sales, stressed the streaming service’s “viewer-first approach to advertising,” he explained to Adweek. “We’re trying to recognize that the viewer experience in on-demand viewing is different from traditional TV, and we should and must evolve the ad experience.”

To that end, Naylor has created a new offering targeting binge-viewers, which he said accounts for as many as half of Hulu’s subscribers each month. There are several options for marketers to reach bingeing audiences with “situationally relevant” creative, he said: “The advertiser can give the viewer the third or fourth episode in their binge a commercial-free experience. Or you can recognize that someone is bingeing with a piece of creative that says something like, ‘You’ve been watching a long time. Why not call DoorDash and get some food delivered?’”

The binge ad format helps differentiate Hulu from its linear competitors, similar to the pause ad format (which displays a static ad when viewers hit pause) that Hulu first announced in January, and, Naylor said today, will come out of beta in August.

This summer, Hulu also expects to finish beta testing its performance-based measurement for brands, which helps marketers determine how many people purchase a product, download an app or sign up for additional information as a result of seeing their ads on the streaming service.

“So far, we’re seeing up to 20% lift in purchase from the advertisers who are with us” in the attribution offering, said Naylor, who also told buyers that Hulu has capped its ad units at 90 seconds and expanded its frequency cap for each piece of creative, which used to be two times per hour, to just four times per day.

“This is all about making sure brands get the right reach and the right exposure without ill benefits of poor frequency control,” said Naylor.

Hulu’s subscriber total, which jumped 40% last year to reach 25 million in January, has increased again to 28 million with 26.8 million monthly paid subscribers and 1.3 million promotional accounts. (The previous 25 million figure included both paid and promotional accounts.)

“We’re growing like mad at a same point in time when others are struggling,” said Naylor.

Renewals and new series orders

Following its early 2019 slate of critically-acclaimed shows like Shrill and The Act, which proved that the streaming service is more than just The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu today renewed freshman series Pen15 and Ramy for second seasons. Two weeks ago, it picked up Shrill for Season 2, as star Aidy Bryant confirmed in her recent Adweek cover story.

Joining the returning shows will be several new series, which Hulu announced at today’s NewFront.

The company is teaming up with Vox Media Studios, chef David Chang’s Majordomo Media and Chrissy Teigen’s Suit & Thai Productions to create food-centric Hulu original programming, including a cooking show starring Chang and Teigen, tentatively called Family Style. (Separately, Hulu has signed Teigen to a two-year development deal.)

“It’s a genre that we see people overindexing on when they’re watching,” said Naylor, noting that epicureans are “coveted” by several brand categories beyond food, including luxury travel and auto. “This is a place where we imagine we can do a lot of branded content pretty effortlessly to the epicurean audience.”

While Hulu CEO Randy Freer recently told Adweek there is “no change in our strategy” now that Disney has a majority stake in Hulu following the close of the Disney-Fox merger, the streaming service has picked up two new live-action series from Disney-owned Marvel: Marvel’s Ghost Rider (about Robbie Reyes, supernaturally bound to a demon) and Marvel’s Helstrom (about the son and daughter of a serial killer, who track down the worst of humanity), both set for 2020.

Those shows will join Marvel’s Runaways, which was renewed for Season 3 in March, and five upcoming adult animated series based on Marvel characters like Howard the Duck and Hit-Monkey.

Hulu is bringing Nicole Kidman to the platform, giving a straight-to-series order to Nine Perfect Strangers, based on the latest book by Big Little Lies’ author Liane Moriarty, about the goings on at a boutique health-and-wellness resort run by Kidman (who also executive produces). The series will be co-written by David E. Kelley, who wrote both seasons of Big Little Lies, which also starred Kidman.

The streaming service ordered limited series The Dropout, starring Kate McKinnon (who also executive produces) as Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. The series is inspired by the ABC News podcast on the rise and fall of Holmes and Theranos, which was also the subject of the recent HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. Adweek also profiled Holmes’ rise and fall through the lens of the agency team that worked with her.

Hulu also debuted the trailer for Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale, which premieres June 5.

Friends With Benefits

As part of Hulu’s “viewer-first approach to advertising,” the company’s marketing team has created a new experience called Friends With Benefits, in which easter eggs featuring brand offers are nestled within Hulu’s shows.

“For example, when you’re going to be browsing on Hulu, and you see all the shows, like This Is Us, or Handmaid’s Tale, or The Act, and then you come across a treatment for a show called The Bouquet. And you’re like, ‘What’s The Bouquet? I’ve never heard of The Bouquet.’ You click on it and it turns out it’s an offer from the online florist called Bouqs: ‘Mother’s Day is coming; click here and send flowers to your mom, courtesy of Hulu and Bouqs, no charge,’” said Naylor. “It’s not something that will be conventionally marketed, we just want to do it in unexpected and integrated ways, and partner with people to do things like that.”

One eagerly-awaited Hulu offering that wasn’t discussed at today’s event: the ability for users to download ad-supported movies and shows to their devices, which the streaming service first announced during last year’s NewFront. Naylor said there’s still no set timetable on when that will be available.

“We’re still looking at the downloads, and working on that as a roadmap,” he said. “It’s a little easier said than done.”


@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.