When The Handmaid’s Tale premiered one year ago, the Elisabeth Moss drama changed Hulu forever. “That show’s success created awareness for Hulu that wasn’t there in the creative community and within the general population, and [it] started a chain of events that helped move the momentum forward,” said Randy Freer. Since he took over as CEO in October, it’s been his job to captain the streaming service’s evolution and prove that the Emmy-winning Handmaid’s (Season 2 premiered last week) was no fluke.
It’s a challenge that Freer—who will oversee his first Hulu NewFronts event on Wednesday—was eager to take on after spending four years “in more of a staff role” as president and COO of Fox Networks Group. “Where I was probably happiest and had the biggest impact [in my career] is when we were building and scaling the regional sports network business, and ultimately Fox Sports as a larger business,” he recalled of his earlier days as co-president and co-COO, Fox Sports Media Group. “I had that itch to get back into really owning something and being able to, with talented people, hopefully grow it and put a stamp on it.”
So Freer has been working to fortify Hulu’s technology platforms, especially for its year-old live TV offering, which is “more challenging” than the traditional on-demand service: “You have to be great at it. There’s not a big margin for error.”
He is also overseeing deals, like an expanded partnership with Spotify, which adds a Hulu subscription to its Spotify Premium package, to expand Hulu’s subscriber base beyond the 17 million U.S. participants for its SVOD and live TV offerings. In the white-hot OTT space, “there’s a window of opportunity with some length to it—I’m not sure if it’s 24 months or five years—to acquire subscribers,” Freer said. “You have to have a diversity of distribution opportunities.”
And as Hulu shells out big bucks to outbid rivals like Netflix for high-profile new projects from George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, Freer is channeling his Fox Sports days, where he negotiated ever-escalating sports rights deals. “When we started doing deals, they were probably $30 million. By the end, they were $3 billion and going up,” Freer said. “So it gave me a little intestinal fortitude for the time we’re in right now, where entertainment programming is escalating at a pace that we hadn’t seen before. But I’m hoping it won’t go to $3 billion for a show!”
President and COO, Fox Networks Group
November 2013—October 2017
Co-president and co-COO, Fox Sports Media Group
January 1997—November 2013
How He Got the Gig
As former CEO Mike Hopkins departed after four years to become chairman of Sony Pictures Television, the Hulu board—which Freer had been a part of since 2013—“decided that the best thing for us was to have somebody be the new CEO who is a known entity and knows a little bit about the business,” he said. They approached Freer, who said it was “a really easy decision for me to make.”
When entering a new company, as Freer did last fall, “even if you have an agenda or think you know what needs to be done, the first thing to do is listen and get to know people and what’s working in the business, what the obstacles are and where you can create more momentum,” he said. “One of the things I try to do every day is spend time in the places you can make the biggest impact.”
For his first NewFronts as CEO on Wednesday morning, Freer will focus on “the whole Hulu product and business” and not just the company’s splashy content. From the service’s lower ad loads to targetability offerings to providing a safe environment for brands, “there’s a huge opportunity for us to lead the industry,” he said.