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Hulu: Everything You Need to Know About the OG Streaming Service

(Image credit: Hulu)

Hulu officially debuted in March 2008,  (a beta version launched about six months earlier) a partnership between The Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal, 20th Century Fox and Time Warner. But the service made its biggest splash with its first TV ad during the 2009 Super Bowl, as actor Alec Baldwin claimed Hulu was run by aliens hell-bent on turning American brains to mush. 

More than a decade later, American brains may indeed be mush, Hulu isn’t free anymore (and probably no longer an evil plot to destroy the world), but the service continues to evolve. With Disney firmly in control -- it assumed about 60% ownership of the partnership after its purchase of certain Fox assets in 2019 for $71.3 billion -- Hulu has offered up its vast library of TV shows, movies, and originals to a growing segment of the population. As of January 1, Hulu had about 40.3 million subscribers, with its pay TV sister Hulu Plus Live TV clocking in at an additional 4.3 million customers. 

In the meantime, Disney moves closer to full control of the service. NBCUniversal parent Comcast, which had been prohibited from exerting any management influence on the streaming service as part of the concessions it made to win federal approval of its NBC buyout in 2009, is in arbitration concerning its 33% interest in the streamer. As part of their original deal. Comcast has the right to sell its interest to Disney beginning in 2024, with a floor value of $27 billion for the stake. 

In February, Comcast began removing some of its NBCU content from the Hulu service in favor of its own streaming offering, Peacock. Beginning in the fall, episodes of Saturday Night Live, The Voice and American Auto will no longer be available on Hulu the day after they air on the NBC broadcast network. Hulu subscribers will still have access to other NBCU programs like Law & Order: SVU, The Mindy Project, 30 Rock, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights and Will & Grace. 

How Can I Get Hulu?

The Hulu app is available at all major app stores and through devices like: Apple TV; Roku; Amazon Fire; Apple IPhone and IPad; Android phones and tablets; Android TV; Chromecast; Samsung, LG and Vizio smart TVs; X box; Nintendo Switch; PlayStation 4 and 5; and Macs and PCs. Hulu Plus Live TV  is a separate subscription service that includes other networks not affiliated with Hulu and customers can sign up through the web or the app. Hulu can also be obtained as part of a bundle with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. Hulu Plus Live TV also can be bundled with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. Subscribers also need a non-mobile broadband connection to serve as their home network.

Hulu original series "The Handmaid's Tale"

Hulu original series "The Handmaid's Tale" (Image credit: Hulu)

How Much Does Hulu Cost?

Pricing for Hulu service depends on just what you want -- ad-supported streaming, ad-free streaming , ad-supported streaming with live TV, ad-free streaming with live TV, or streaming Hulu with a bundle with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus.

Ad-supported streaming is available for $6.99 per month and includes access to Hulu’s full ad-supported library. The ad-free version costs $12.99 per month and includes access to most of that library minus the advertising. A bundle of Hulu (with ads), Disney Plus and ESPN Plus is available for $13.99 per month. An ad-free bundle is available for $19.99 per month. 

Hulu Plus Live TV offers the ad-supported Hulu streaming service plus about 75 pay TV channels -- including non-Disney fare from MTV, OWN, BET, Bravo, Comedy Central and others -- Disney Plus and ESPN Plus for $69.99 per month. There is also an ad-free Hulu streaming service Plus Live TV available for $75.99 per month that also includes Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. However, in that package, only the Hulu streaming service is ad-free, all the rest has ads.

Customers also can get access to add-on premium networks for an additional charge like HBO Max ($14.99/month); Cinemax ($9.99/month), Showtime ($10.99/month), Starz ($8.99/month). For subscribers with big families that need to watch on more than the two screens allowed by the basic service, an Unlimited Screens Add-on is available. For an additional $9.99 per month, subscribers can watch Live TV on any supported device connected to their home network, and up to three mobile devices outside of the home.

Other add-ons include an Entertainment TV Add-on (opens in new tab) for $7.99 per month that offers 16 additional networks like BET Her, Cooking Channel, Discovery Family, CNBC World, Crime + Investigation and others. A sports add-on (opens in new tab), including six channels --NFL Red Zone, TVG, TVG2, MAVTV, Sportsman Channel and Outdoor Channel -- is available for $9.99 per month; and an Español Add-on, (opens in new tab) which includes several Spanish language networks like CNN en Español, ESPN Deportes, Discovery en Español and Fox Deportes, is priced at $4.99 per month. 

What Shows Can I Watch?

Consumers can get an ad-supported version of Hulu that includes thousands of TV shows and movies, including originals like Emmy-winner The Handmaid’s Tale (opens in new tab), horror anthology series Monsterland and comedy series Woke, broadcast and cable network shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine (opens in new tab); Preacher and Brockmire, and next-day airings of current broadcast and cable series like Abbott Elementary, Atlanta and The Thing About Pam. 

Hulu original series include the popular Only Murders in the Building (opens in new tab), starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez as true-crime podcasters; mini series The Dropout (opens in new tab), starring Amanda Seyfried as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes; Life & Beth (opens in new tab), a comedy-drama starring Amy Schumer. Original movies include psychological thriller Deep Water (opens in new tab), starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas; Palm Springs (opens in new tab), a comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti; and Fresh (opens in new tab), a modern dating horror flick with a twist starring Sebastian Stan. 

The bundle adds live sports programming from ESPN Plus (opens in new tab) like UFC, Bundesliga and La Liga soccer, and PGA Tour golf, while Disney Plus offers access to Marvel shows like Moon Knight, Hawkeye and Daredevil; movies like Encanto, Soul and Turning Red and series like The Proud Family, The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.  An ad-free version of Hulu is available that also allows subscribers to download shows for later viewing.

Hulu Plus Live TV offers more than 75 channels live and on-demand channels like BET, Bravo, Comedy Central, E!, Freeform, Lifetime, MTV, OWN, TBS, TNT, VH1, and USA; family-friendly channels like Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Universal Kids, and Boomerang; educational channels like Discovery, History, NASA, and National Geographic; national sports channels like ESPN, FS1, SEC, BTN, and ACCN; and national news channels CNN, Fox News, ABC News, MSNBC, and CNBC.

Local news and sports are available in most cities through station affiliates of broadcasters ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, and Telemundo. In addition, select regional sports networks are available.  ■  

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.