Hulu to top 23 million subscribers by year-end

Hulu will top 23 million subscribers by year-end, according to comments made by Hulu CEO Randy Freer speaking at Business Insider’s Ignition conference this morning. While Freer didn’t state the number outright, he said that the business will have added more subscribers in the second half of 2018 than it did in the first. Based on the numbers we already know, that would put Hulu somewhere in the 23+ to 24 million range by the start of 2019.

Hulu announced at CES in January 2018 its subscriber count had reached 17 million. It then updated that number to 20 million at this year’s NewFronts presentation. If Hulu is on track to add more subscribers in the second half of the year, then it will at least top 23 million.

“I think our numbers will be really impressive,” Freer said. “But, we need to get 30, 40, 50 million homes in a way that we can scale,” he added.

The exec also spoke of the potential for Hulu’s live TV business, offering another hint of how quickly that product was growing by way of a comparison with a competitor — AT&T’s DirecTV Now.

“We think the live TV market is robust,” Freer said. “DirecTV Now announced their number in the third quarter and we grew 10x of where DirecTV Now was. We were growing in October and November. We had our best third quarter, our best October, our best November,” he added.

DirecTV Now had added 49,000 customers in the third quarter. That means Hulu’s Live TV product alone had grown by nearly 500,000 subscribers in the quarter, which would account for a big chunk of Hulu’s overall subscriber growth of 3 million-plus.

The CEO didn’t talk about what’s in store for Hulu with the change in ownership, where Disney is becoming the majority shareholder by way of the 21st Century Fox acquisition. It will take a 60 percent share, leaving Comcast as a 30 percent owner and AT&T’s WarnerMedia with 10 percent. (But the latter is considering selling its stake, AT&T just told investors.)

However, he did offer some hints of what’s on Hulu’s roadmap, including an international expansion.

“We’re exploring all opportunities to expand the geography…we have support from ownership to drive that drive that opportunity,” Freer said.

Freer also noted that Hulu’s ad revenue, thanks its combination of live TV and on-demand, has grown by north of 50 percent [in the Upfront] over the last year, and is continuing to grow.

“The ads business is really starting to come into its own, and our ability to generate ARPU around ad subs has been terrific,” he said.

He also painted a picture of the flexibility a digital TV service like Hulu offers, suggesting that consumers may one day be able to pay for individual shows on an ad-free basis, instead of having to subscribe to an ad-free tier. Or they could toggle on live TV to watch their favorite sports games, then turn it off when they ended — effectively describing a pay-per-view sports product.

“We know sports has a tendency to drive subscriptions…so we will certainly be evaluating sports as an opportunity,” Freer noted.

This ability to personalize your TV is one of the reasons Hulu believes the cable TV era is over, the CEO added.

“The aggregated linear cable network as a business…it had a great 20 year run. I think the next decade — it’s not going to be about aggregated linear TV networks or scheduled networks,” Freer said.