Kelly Campbell stepped into a new role as president of Hulu in February—right before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended our lives in almost every respect.
Speaking with Adweek’s Kelsey Sutton this week at our virtual Convergent TV Summit, Campbell offered insights on leading through crisis and how Hulu’s been able to quickly shift strategies as consumer behavior changed throughout the course of this abnormal year.
Campbell’s first focus when the pandemic hit was her employees, she said. In the immediate term, Campbell prioritized ensuring that Hulu’s workers had what they needed to make a smooth transition to remote work, and that they felt “safe and protected,” she said.
“It’s really an exercise in just making myself available, offering dialogue, listening and sharing, participating,” said Campbell. It’s also about enlisting her words as a leader and sharing her vision, she said, but without first stopping to listen, that piece is less effective. “Visible leadership really involves a delicate mix of both listening and talking, especially during times of great change and uncertainty,” she said.
Next, Hulu turned its attention to its consumers. “We [had] more than 35 million viewers now stuck at home,” Campbell said, “and they want content, they need content.”
Hulu did several things to adjust its content to meet consumer needs. First, it shifted toward helping its viewers—who were suddenly streaming more content, more often—to find new shows and content on the platform. Hulu also worked with its counterparts at ABC News to make the news livestream available to a wider range of subscribers, even those without a Live subscription. It also pulled forward launch dates for Hulu Originals like the Little Fires Everywhere series and Big Time Adolescence film to satisfy a consumer need for more new content.
But Hulu also was able to satisfy consumer needs with some of the older content in its library. Golden Girls, for example, jumped back into Hulu’s top 20 most watched shows early on in the pandemic, and has stayed there, said Campbell. The comfort of a familiar show feeds a need for nostalgia and safety that consumers are seeking from televised content during an uncertain time.
But as the pandemic extended into the summer and fall, the platform’s content strategy had to shift in bigger ways. Content that it was expecting to receive was delayed due to production cancellations, and movies that had originally been slated for a theatrical release were moving to streaming. It’s increased the pace of that content strategy decision-making process “quite a bit,” said Campbell.
Underpinning all those decisions is a focus on the consumer, said Campbell. Hulu, at its core, is a “direct-to-consumer business in the entertainment space,” she said. “And to be a successful direct-to-consumer business, the customer has to be at the heart of every key business decision.”
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