Hulu Focuses on Its Audience’s ‘Total Engagement’ Because ‘For Us, Demos Are Dead’

Plus, why The Handmaid’s Tale will miss this year’s Emmy eligibility window

Catch-22, directed by and starring George Clooney, will debut May 17 on Hulu. Philipe Antonello /Hulu
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Hulu is one of many outlets that will be affected by the upcoming close of the Disney-Fox deal, which will give Disney a majority stake in the streaming service. But Hulu said it’s more focused on keeping its subscribers happy than thinking about life under Disney.

The streaming service added 8 million subscribers last year for a total of 25 million U.S. subscribers, which makes it the fastest growing on-demand platform in the country, svp of originals Craig Erwich said at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

“Hits are important, but Hulu is more than one show or a collection of shows,” said Erwich. “Our success is based on something much deeper.”

When considering new projects, execs ask the same question, said Erwich: “Who is this show for?” And he’s not talking about age or gender demos.

“For us, demos are dead. We define our audience in multiple ways,” said Erwich.

For example, after viewers watch The Handmaid’s Tale, “not everyone wants to watch another prestige drama,” he said. Instead, many prefer to switch to a comedy on the streaming service, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Rick and Morty.

Hulu—which both dropped and raised subscription rates last month—also programs to “mindset,” such as how shows will pair with its popular library content like ER, said Erwich.

“The metric that we’re really focused on is the total engagement of our viewers,” said Erwich. “What’s the collection of shows they watch? How often do they come on our platform? … We don’t have one metric or one number that indicates success.“

With the Disney deal looming, Hulu is focused on continuing to bring “a wide variety of choice,” to subscribers, said Erwich, who doesn’t expect the company’s programming strategy to change when Disney becomes the majority owner.

That said, Hulu did announce a big deal with Disney-owned Marvel Television for four adult animated series based on Marvel characters—M.O.D.O.K, Hit-Monkey, Tigra & Dazzler Show and Howard The Duck—as well as a special featuring all four characters, The Offenders. It echoes the deal Marvel and Netflix struck back in 2013 for a quartet of shows on that streaming service (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist), leading into the characters teaming up for The Defenders.

Because animation has “a long lead-time,” Erwich isn’t sure when the Marvel series will be ready to air. He said all the shows will be “comedic,” but each will have a different tone.

In news, Hulu said Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale—the focus of its Super Bowl ad this year—will premiere on Wednesday, June 5, meaning that the series will miss this year’s Emmy eligibility window (which closes on May 31).

The move was a creative decision, not a strategic one. “Maintaining the quality of The Handmaid’s Tale takes time,” said Erwich, adding that the decision had nothing to do with avoiding competing against Game of Thrones’ final season in this year’s Emmy race.

Hulu also announced premiere dates for several upcoming shows including: limited series Catch-22, directed by and starring George Clooney (Friday, May 17); comedy Shrill, starring Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant (Friday, March 15); comedy Ramy (Friday, April 19), documentary Ask Dr. Ruth (Friday, May 10) and  anthology series The Act (Wednesday, March 20). The streaming service is also developing The Devil in the White City, based on Erik Larson’s New York Times bestselling nonfiction thriller, with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio attached to executive produce.

On Monday morning, Hulu released the trailer for Clooney’s Catch-22:

Erwich also commented on Hulu’s surprise decision to leapfrog ahead of Netflix’s documentary about the Fyre Festival with its own documentary, which dropped a few days earlier. “I’d say we pulled it off very well,” said Erwich.

Hulu’s documentary had been in the works for more than a year, and when Netflix announced its release date, “it was important to us and our viewers that we went first.” However, the move “wasn’t meant as a dig at anyone else,” he said.

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