While Hulu previously stated that they would stick to their policy to reject ads surrounding controversial issues, it seems like they’re now changing their stance. Hulu will now accept political issue ads. Disney, the parent company of Hulu, made a statement on the matter, saying “After a thorough review of ad policies across its linear networks and streaming platforms over the last few months, Disney is now aligning Hulu’s political advertising policies to be consistent with the Company’s general entertainment and sports cable networks and ESPN+. Hulu will now accept candidates and issue advertisements covering a wide spectrum of policy positions, but reserves the right to request edits or alternative creative, in alignment with industry standards.”
Previously, Hulu would accept political ads for candidates and campaigns on a case-by-case basis, but they avoided accepting ads for issues like abortion and gun control. The executive directors of the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee criticized the streaming platform for censoring the facts about these hot-button topics.
It’s not surprising that Hulu eventually changed its tune regarding these political ads. While there are a lot of streaming platforms out there, Hulu is known for prominently featuring ads with its basic subscription tier. Thus, it seems like they would be open to accepting ad revenue from any source. When pressure mounted for them to accept ads for hot-button issues, they relented. With political candidates needing to reach a younger audience more than ever, streaming ads are a good way to do so. YouTube ads and social ads undoubtedly play a part, but streaming is the new way to watch TV. It makes sense that politicians would want unfettered access to this kind of platform.
It remains to be seen if other streaming platforms follow Hulu’s example for political ads. Peacock is another popular streaming platform with ads, and they currently list controversial issues and political ads as a category that requires review before they’re streamed. Still, Peacock isn’t on the same level as Hulu is as a streaming service. Hulu ranks amongst the top streaming platforms by subscribers in the world, with over 45 million subscribers as of Q2 of 2022. This is a huge audience that those advertisers and politicians can reach.
It’ll be very interesting to see how this Hulu political ad precedent affects the world’s largest streaming platform, Netflix. Netflix is planning on adding a lower-cost subscription tier that will have advertisements. Hulu’s reach may be impressive, but Netflix dwarfs it with a whopping 73.2 million subscribers in the US and Canada and 220 million worldwide. The domestic numbers alone will create a high level of interest for political issue ads. While Hulu is owned by Disney, meaning they need to keep its policies in line with the parent company, Netflix is a publicly traded company making its own calls. Undoubtedly, Netflix will be looking at all the different ad streams and coming up with its own set of policies. While Hulu’s decision could certainly lead them in that direction, they could make the decision to avoid accepting political ads altogether. It seems more likely that Netflix wouldn’t shut down this ad revenue, but that remains to be seen.
This likely won’t be the last time that a streamer is confronted about their ad policies. As the political landscape and media landscape continues to evolve, companies will need to consider their personal policies to reflect the current climate. Hulu may be the latest to start implementing more modern policies regarding political ad spots, but they surely won’t be the last.