Hulu Launches Its Live TV Streaming Service Today and Renews The Handmaid’s Tale

Offering 50 channels, DVR and a Hulu subscription for $40 per month

Hulu's new user interface will seamlessly combine its live TV and on-demand programming options. Hulu
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Hulu’s long-awaited live TV streaming service is finally, well, live, as the company launches its beta version today, offering access to live and on demand programming on more than 50 channels, along with a Hulu subscription, for $39.99 per month.

The launch was one of several big announcements that Hulu made during its NewFronts event this morning at New York’s Theater at Madison Square Garden, as the decade-old streaming service celebrated its most ambitious year yet.

In other major news, Hulu has officially picked up its new critically-acclaimed drama The Handmaid’s Tale—starring Adweek’s cover subject Elisabeth Moss—for Season 2, which will debut in 2018.

“This is really special,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins told Adweek of the series, which premiered one week ago. “We’ve been on a path of making really good shows over the last year, and this one feels like it has a real chance to break through in a way that we’ve been trying to but haven’t quite done so yet. If that happens, it will be a really good thing for us as a company and a brand.”

The company, which is doubling its original series output in the next year, added to its tally with two new series pickups today. Netflix will no longer be the only streaming service with an original Marvel series: Hulu has picked up Marvel’s Runaways to series. The drama, about six teenagers with superpowers who band together to fight their evil parents, is from The O.C.’s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage.

The service has also given a straight-to-series order for The First, a drama from House of Cards creator Beau Willimon about the first human mission to Mars. That show will also air on Hulu next year.

Hulu, which picked up exclusive SVOD rights to The Golden Girls earlier this year (“We knew it was going to be big, but it’s exceeded our expectations,” Hopkins told Adweek), landed another big acquisition: SVOD rights to Donald Glover’s Golden-Globe winning FX comedy, Atlanta. Season 1 will stream on Hulu ahead of the Season 2 debut on FX next year. Hulu also announced during its event that it has also acquired SVOD rights to This Is Us. The deal was completed “minutes ago,” said Craig Erwich, svp and head of content.

In a new deal with Scripps Networks Interactive, channels like HGTV and Food Network will appear on Hulu’s live TV service, while regular Hulu subscribers will have access to full seasons of select Scripps series.

Until last year, Hulu reported its number of subscriptions (last year’s figure was 12 million), but going forward, the company will now be sharing its total number of unique viewers, which is 47 million, according to comScore. Hulu said 32 million of those users, or 68 percent, opt for ad-supported content.

Going Live

But the morning’s biggest news involved details about today’s launch of Hulu’s live TV beta service. For $39.99 each month, subscribers get access to ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox—Hulu said local live broadcast affiliate programming will be available in “many markets, with more to follow”—as well as cable networks like A&E, Bravo, CNN, Disney Channel, E!, ESPN, Food Network, Fox News, Fox Sports, Freeform, FX, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MSNBC, National Geographic, TBS, TNT, USA and Viceland. Regional sports networks are also available in many markets, and all live TV subscribers receive access to Hulu’s library of content.

That monthly fee includes 50 hours of recording storage, up to six individual profiles and two simultaneous streams per account.

Add-ons include enhanced cloud DVR, for $14.99 per month, offering up to 200 hours of recording storage. That will record new episodes of any show or game that users have selected as a favorite, and give them the option to fast-forward through recorded ads.

The “unlimited screens” option, also $14.99 per month, allows for an unlimited number of simultaneous streams inside the home, and three streams outside the home. Both add-ons are available together for $19.99 per month. For an additional $4 per month, subscribers can access the ad-free tier of Hulu’s library content.

Showtime will be available for an additional $8.99, and Hulu said other premium channels will be available “soon.”

Hulu is also rolling out a new, personalized user interface for all subscribers, which will integrate its live and on-demand programming. “We’ve taken care to make sure that when we launch, it makes sense, it’s easy to use and it’s seamless,” said Hopkins. That interface, said Peter Naylor, Hulu’s svp of advertising sales, will separate Hulu’s live offering from that of competitors like Sling and DirecTV Now.

Naylor told Adweek the new interface will also open up sponsorship packages beyond the usual 15- and 30-second spots, and brands will be able to take advantage of dynamic ad insertion capabilities in cable networks for the two minutes of local breaks per hour. That DAI access will include cloud DVR programming, so “we don’t lose anything to being time-shifted,” said Naylor. “We can recapture those views whenever the viewer wants to watch their content.”

The live TV service will be available initially on Apple TV, Xbox One and Chromecast, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices. Other devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung smart TVs, will be supported “soon,” said the company.

In other advertising news, Hulu has expanded its partnership with advanced TV advertising company BrightLine for T-commerce, which will allow Hulu viewers to engage directly inside a commercial, selecting a movie theater and time to buy tickets through their connected TV device. Next year, said Naylor, T-commerce will extend to brand categories like retail and quick-service restaurants.

As Naylor previously told Adweek, Hulu and Nielsen have partnered to extend Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings to the living room, which will allow for complete measurement of Hulu’s content across all streaming devices. Hulu said Magna, Horizon Media and GroupM are among the first agencies to adopt its new Digital Ad Ratings currency. “The concern is there are a lot of holes in measurement; we’re filling them in. No more Swiss cheese,” said Naylor.

Separately, Hulu is working with SambaTV to help advertisers measure the results of tune-in campaigns, while its Nielsen Catalina Solutions partnership will offer sales effectiveness measurement for consumer packaged goods advertisers.

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