Hulu, an evil plot to destroy the world, started as a free, ad-supported streaming video site that plays full episodes, clips, and whole movies. For many years it was a joint corporate venture involving companies such as Turner Broadcasting System, Fox, ABC and NBC, with Fox and NBC being the founding members of the venturenote and carries content from all four, plus their sundry cable networks and motion picture studios, as well as various other providers. It also carries some older content from CBS, such as NUMB3RS and Medium (originally an NBC show, but made by CBS and later moved that network). Essentially, it's broadcast television's answer to Netflix.
Because of international distribution rights, it can only be viewed on computers, phones and other smart devices physically located in America and Japan (the Japanese website is owned by Nippon TV.) That is, unless you're behind 7 proxies with one of them in the right country. And only on computers, as Hulu specifically blocks out all set-top boxes and game consoles from accessing their programming through their respective web interfaces, ensuring that viewers otherwise watch the shows on a television, not with a web browser connected to a television (laptops and monitors with HDMI outputs notwithstanding)...
... unless you buy a subscription plan (formerly called Hulu Plus) an even evil(er) plot to destroy the world, which opens up access to most game consoles, Internet-enabled televisions, streaming devices, and Blu-ray players using a special app, though some programming remains restricted to computer-only. However, it should be noted that even if you have a subscription, you still can't skip the commercials, without paying an additional fee. At times, you can mark which ones are relevant to you and thus make them more bearable to watch. Ad breaks on a subscription plan are shorter, and kids's show targeted at younger audiences (such as Guess with Jess or The Hive) and nearly all feature films will not have them.
Also, if you have a subscription, you also avoid many channel's "eight-day block", which forces viewers to wait a full week before watching a new episode of a program online, unless they have a cable subscription that includes that channel. And all available content is available 24/7, as opposed to the free service which only includes a block of episodes of a show that rotates over time.
Oh, and see all those series down there? If it's an American series that isn't currently airing, expect there to be at least one complete season available to see. In many cases, entire series can be viewed.
If it's an anime, chances are even higher that you'll have the whole series on hand, even if it's still airing. With professional subs. No more than 2 weeks behind Japan. Cue rejoicing followed by Archive Binge.
The service has incorporated more overseas (mostly British) content in the past few years, in an apparent effort to attract Anglophiles. Other overseas content has included non-Anglophone shows that were later remade in America, which can be easily promoted to curious fans of the American versions, such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Hatufim (Homeland), and Bron|Broen (The Bridge). It has also co-invested in some British TV shows, including the Richard Corden series The Wrong Mans and the most recent season of The Thick of It starring Peter Capaldi, which, in-turn, become streaming exclusives to Hulu once they've been broadcast in the UK. (Hulu sometimes hypes them as 'Hulu Originals', which while they helped foot the bill, is stretching the truth a bit.) They show many limited-run or shorter-run series that are more adult and therefore less likely to appear on BBC America (like Misfits or Pramface), and also British soaps and reality shows, like Coronation Street and The Only Way Is Essex.
In 2014, in a significant deal with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Hulu now manage streaming of all South Park episodes. Where they used to be available for free via South Park Studios' own website, unedited, the episodes are now on a new site on Comedy Central's domain which is managed by Hulu. Older episodes are now bleeped for language and now have commercials inserted like other Hulu programming. When Season 18 of South Park premiered in September 2014, the entire show ceased being available at the old site and from that point now only 30 episodes are available for free on a rotating basis on Hulu (Hulu subscription subscribers, naturally, have access to the entire series). Needless to say, fans were not happy. (The show left Hulu for HBO Max in June 2020.)
Then, in 2015, Hulu made a similar arrangement with Sony, spending $160 million dollars to become the exclusive* streaming home of Seinfeld. Starting in late June, the entire series became available to stream, for Hulu subscription members only. Previously, only selected episodes were available via Sony's free Crackle service. Hulu is also streaming the episodes in their original NBC broadcast edits, instead of using the shorter edits seen on syndication and Crackle. Netflix (who'd spent $115 million in a similar arrangement for Friends) was approached by Sony first, but passed when Sony's asking price per-episode was deemed too high.*
Like its rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime, it has also branched out into original programming, such as the animated show The Awesomes and the supernatural comedy Deadbeat. While Hulu at first didn't have a break-out hit like Netflix's House of Cards or Amazon Prime's Transparent, a couple of shows that debuted in 2015 got strong reviews and a fair amount of media attention: Difficult People, a show created by comedian Julie Klausner and produced by former SNL star Amy Poehler, that was originally was developed for USA Network, and Casual, produced by director Jason Reitman, which was Hulu's first series to be nominated for a Golden Globe award. Hulu also producing a miniseries based on the Stephen King novel 11/22/63, starring James Franco and co-produced by J. J. Abrams. In 2017 it finally got its own breakout series with The Handmaid's Tale, which also gave it the honor of being the first streaming service to get a Best Series Emmy.
Along with the Seinfeld deal, 2015 brought about several other major events:
In May, as Amazon has done for Ripper Street and Netflix did for Arrested Development, Hulu rescued The Mindy Project after it was cancelled, ordering 26 new episodes, and getting exclusive streaming rights for the previous 3 seasons. Hulu had been rumored to be a front-runner to rescue Community when it was cancelled by NBC, until it was picked up by Yahoo! Screen.
In June, Hulu entered an agreement with Showtime to manage their own HBO Now-style internet streaming service. As a by-product of the deal, all Showtime shows (like Californication and Penn & Teller: Bullshit!) that previously had been available on Hulu were removed. In an interesting promotional arrangement, Hulu subscribers can add the Showtime service to their existing Hulu Plus subscription at a 25% discount.
Finally, in August, Hulu unveiled a no commercials subscription option, that carries an additional $4 to $6 charge to a normal Hulu subscription. There are some shows (Grey's Anatomy and Once Upon a Time, for example) that will still show pre- and post-episode ads, but under the plan these shows are no longer interrupted by commercial breaks.
As of August 23rd, 2016, Hulu is now by subscription only.
On December 14, 2017, Disney announced that it would acquire Fox's stake in Hulu as part of its acquisition of 21st Century Fox's entertainment properties, giving Disney majority control of Hulu. The deal was finalized in March 2019, and in April of that year AT&T divested its 10% stake in the service. A few weeks later in May, Comcast and Disney announced that Comcast had relinquished its say in the operation of Hulu in exchange for a potentially above market-value buyout in 2024, giving Disney full operational control over the service. While Disney-owned content is largely being directed to the Disney+ streaming service and first-run Fox-branded film content is licensed to HBO for the time being (though said channel, along with HBO Max, is available as an add-on under Hulu), Hulu's new ownership is becoming increasingly apparent through a new crossover brand initiative with FX Networks, titled "FX on Hulu," which will see a large amount of new FX and FXX content premiere on Hulu just a day after airing on cable, and even some new FX-produced original series becoming Hulu exclusives (beginning with Alex Garland's Devs).* Hulu has also allowed some of its higher-profile third-party deals, such as Seinfeld and South Park, to be snatched by other services, though they have made no indication that they are abandoning third-party material entirely.
Coinciding with Disney's takeover of Hulu, it was also announced that an international rollout of the service was planned. However, in August 2020, Disney confirmed that the international counterpart for Hulu would instead be branded under Star (named after Star India, another asset Disney purchased from Fox) due to the lack of the Hulu name's appeal outside the States and Japan, and would not feature any third-party content shown on the US service. Instead, the upcoming Star service will feature content from the namesake Star India, Hulu original programming and content from Disney's non-branded studios including ABC, 20th Century Studios, FX, and most films from Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures. It is unknown if the Star-branded service will be powered by Hulu's technology or that of BAMTech, the latter of whom powers Disney+ and ESPN+.
U.S. content providers include:
- A&E Networksnote
- AMC Networks
- Discovery, Inc.
- Epix (select shows and film library, including first-run content from Paramount, Lionsgate [through 2019] and MGM)
- Here TV
- IMAX Corporation
- Lionsgate (first-run theatrical films 2020-2021)
Hulu Originals include:
- Baghdad Central
- Battleground (2012), their first original scripted series
- The Bisexual
- Castle Rock
- Dimension 404
- Devs (As part of FX on Hulu)
- Difficult People
- The Great
- The Handmaid's Tale
- High Fidelity
- Into the Dark
- Light As A Feather
- Little Fires Everywhere
- Looking for Alaska
- The Looming Tower
- Love, Victor
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- The Mindy Project (Seasons 4-6)
- Mrs. America (As part of FX on Hulu)
- The Orville (Season 3)
- Shut Eye
- Veronica Mars (Season 4)
Tropes pertaining to Hulu include:
- Killer App:
- The Handmaid's Tale gave Hulu an original series that can compete with Netflix, with Hulu's 2017 Emmy win raising the profile of the streaming service.
- For the Occidental Otaku, Hulu has a good selection of anime, both simulcasts and older titles.
- Many fans of Family Guy and Bob's Burgers admitted to getting subscriptions once said shows were pulled from Netflix as Hulu became the only major streaming service offering those shows.
- No Export for You: Hulu is only available in United States and Japan. Furthermore, Hulu Originals are not available in any other country outside the US on simulcast. However, due to the way companies distributes titles, some originals can reach their way months or years after a season was broadcasted in full.
- Screwed by the Lawyers: While "FX on Hulu" is promoted in a way that implies all of the FX and FXX shows will be featured on the streamer, several are unavailable on the service due to existing agreements with other streaming services, similar to Disney+. Examples include Pose and American Crime Story (both of which stream on Netflix) and The Americans (which streams on Prime Video). Others appear to have been deliberately left off the service, namely Louie.
- What Could Have Been: After accepting High Fidelity and Love, Victor from Disney+, Hulu reciprocated the trade when its planned adaptation of The Mysterious Benedict Society was shifted to that service.