Hulu has fallen far. In early 2008 the streaming service was ranked number one on PC World’s Best Product list. During its early years, Hulu was also seen as the next phase in streaming television. It was the answer to the growing concerns that TV executives had about the rising popularity of torrents and the pirating of cable television shows. Again in 2010, PC World wrote, “Hulu has been a big success. It’s the best known destination for online video.”
One year later, Hulu ranked eighth among comScore’s 2011 online video rankings with 31.2 million unique viewers in December. Also among comScore’s 2011 numbers, Hulu ranked number one in video ads viewed with 1,493,649 total ads viewed at a frequency of 46.1 ads per viewer. While a 46.1 ad frequency meant more opportunities for potential advertisers, Hulu had already gone too far in terms of pushing their viewers’ limits.
In May 2011, News Corp. began negotiating with Hulu for a greater number of ads to run in tandem with several streaming Fox programs. A greater push for ads was something that took hold among Hulu executives as December 2012’s comScore numbers show Hulu’s individual viewer ad frequency skyrocket to 64.9. Tragically, Hulu’s percentage of reach among the total U.S population sat at a pitiful 7.3%. To put that number in perspective, the second lowest reach percentage is all the way at 18.7%. Hulu’s ads became more frequent but no one was buying.
In 2012 moving into 2013, Hulu has hit its lowest point. December’s comScore numbers also report that among the top ten online video content providers, Hulu didn’t even make the cut. Hulu’s failure to break the top ten is a blazing testament to the site’s inability to keep up with their contemporaries in online video.
In early 2011, Mashable wrote about Hulu’s shift towards more ads, saying, “Networks, content providers and Hulu itself have been reticent to increase advertising on the site, in fear of a user revolt.” The “user revolt” has come to pass for Hulu, as the streaming TV site no longer has digital video cornered. Already, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have risen far above Hulu with a fraction of video ads per viewer.
While arguments can be made for Hulu’s rising ad frequency directly damaging their viewer numbers, a more concrete story is found among the streaming site’s customers. At the official Hulu discussion board, one user writes, “As of last night, I had to sit through 75 to 90 seconds worth of ads, on EVERY ad spot during the show – all the same ads.” The disgruntled viewer goes on to ask, “What are you going to do Hulu? What is more important, your customers or your advertisers? Make a choice – which is it?” As ad frequency rises and viewer numbers fall, it’s becoming more and more clear that Hulu has already made their choice.
For what it’s worth, Hulu’s Senior VP of content Andy Forssell recently spoke at a tech panel where he claimed that Hulu had ramped down its ad frequency in January and had plans for additional cuts in the future. For Hulu’s sake, let’s hope they keep listening to their customers and find a balance between advertisement saturation and bankruptcy.