How Hulu Is Using Original Content To Woo New Subscribers

With The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu may have an original hit to rival those of Amazon and Netflix.

How Hulu Is Using Original Content To Woo New Subscribers
Game of clones: Hulu hopes to raise the profile of its new skinny bundle with buzzworthy programs such as The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a dystopian near-future.

Hulu is banking on more than live TV and a robust library of Modern Family and Parks and Recreation episodes to distinguish its new skinny bundle from competitors. It’s also pouring resources into its original-content unit in an effort to increase its own programming, which topped out at 19 shows last year.


“Original programming is really the best way for us to define our brand,” says Hulu’s senior VP and head of content, Craig Erwich. “It’s very important for us to be able to say, ‘Only on Hulu.’ ” Though the service has a cult favorite in its astringent comedy Difficult People, and has enjoyed critical success with shows such as Casual and The Path, the company hasn’t yet had a pop-culture hit that stands up to those of Amazon, HBO, or Netflix. It hopes to change that with the April 26 premiere of its 10-episode dystopian drama, The Handmaid’s Tale. Starring Elisabeth Moss and based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, the show has already generated buzz, thanks in part to its resonant patriarchal and autocratic undertones.

“People are [already] celebrating pop culture on a regular basis on Hulu,” says Erwich. Now, he hopes to generate conversation. In March, Hulu debuted Harlots, which tells the story of sex workers in 18th-century London (and is written and produced exclusively by women), and this fall it will release a new drama based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Looming Tower, an investigation into the events leading up to September 11. The goal, says Erwich, is to establish Hulu as a great place for all kinds of storytelling. “Hulu isn’t just appealing to one demographic,” he says. “We have to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”

Streaming Wars

Hulu is not the only skinny bundle to enter the ring. Here, a look at its live-streaming competitors.

1. Sling TV: Dish Networks’ Sling TV is the cheapest bundle, starting at just $20 a month, but it’s also the skinniest. The basic “orange” plan gives you more than 30 channels, including Disney and ESPN, but no major broadcast networks. The “blue” plan, for $25 a month, will get you Fox and NBC, but you lose the Disney channels.

2. DirecTV Now: DirecTV Now is more expensive but offers the most complete lineup of channels. Plans range from $35 to $70 a month for between 60 and 120 channels; the latter includes MTV Classic and Sundance TV. All the major networks are available except CBS.

3. Sony PlayStation Vue: One of the biggest perks is that the Vue has a cloud-based DVR and allows for profiles for different family members. It also supports up to five simultaneous streams at one time—more than any of its competitors. Plans range from $40 to $75 a month for between 45 and 90 channels, including CBS.

About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety.