In a first for digital TV platforms, Hulu will run commercials in downloaded shows

Samira Wiley, left, and Elisabeth Moss, stars of "The Handmaid's Tale," at Hulu's 2018 upfront presentation on Wednesday in New York.
(Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images)

Video streaming service Hulu will soon offer viewers downloadable movies and TV shows that can be watched without an internet connection, but it comes with a price — watching commercials.

The company announced the plans Wednesday at its upfront sales presentation at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. It’s the first time advertisers are being offered the chance to buy ads in downloads of TV programming — as opposed to shows that are available through streaming — according to Peter Naylor, senior vice president for ad sales at Hulu.

The downloadable shows — a digital distribution method made popular by Apple’s iTunes service — will be added to Hulu’s current subscription offerings, which include on-demand viewing of shows and livestreaming of broadcast and cable programming through Hulu Live. The downloadable programs will be available as part of a Hulu subscription during the 2018-19 TV season.


“We will be launching the ability for viewers to download and play back their favorite shows,” Naylor said. “We will not only be live and on demand, but [also] untethered and on the go.”

Naylor also announced that Hulu will offer advertisers commercial inventory on the cable channels streamed on Hulu Live.

The offerings are aimed at giving advertisers more options for reaching the growing number of viewers who are watching shows on streaming devices. As more younger viewers are choosing to watch online — Hulu says it’s the preferred method for 60% of all millennials — they have become harder for advertisers to reach through traditional TV channels offered on cable and satellite services.

Hulu said the median age of its users is 31, while the median age for traditional TV viewers is in the mid-50s.

Hulu is making its pitch as advertisers prepare to spend nearly $20 billion in television’s upfront market for the 2018-19 season that begins in the fall. Hulu now has 20 million subscribers, up from 17 million at the end of 2017.

While Hulu offers its subscribers commercial-free, on-demand programming for $11.99 a month, Naylor said “a wide majority” of them take its lower priced option ($7.99 a month) that comes with commercial interruptions — though typically far fewer than on linear TV through a cable or broadcast network.


While Hulu carries from most of the major TV networks and production studios, it has gained acclaim and cultural currency with its own original series such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which earned the Emmy for best drama, a first for a streaming service. The series starring Elisabeth Moss has been picked up for a third season.

Hulu also recently ordered “Catch-22,” a limited series from Paramount TV and Anonymous Content based on the 1961 Joseph Heller novel. George Clooney is a producer on the project which will also be his first TV acting role since his days on “ER.”

Hulu also announced a deal with DreamWorks Animation that will give it exclusive streaming rights to the studio’s film library and future projects. Hulu said it will also work with the studio to create original programs aimed at children and families.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio