The Desk appreciates the support of readers who purchase products or services through links on our website. Learn more...

Hulu to expand to other countries by 2021, Disney executive says

Hulu, the more-grown-up streaming service offered by the Walt Disney Company, will start rolling out to other countries by next year, the company’s chief executive told investors on Tuesday.

For months, Disney has focused primarily on its Disney Plus service, which offers a library of movies and TV shows from Walt Disney Pictures, the Disney Channel, Lucasfilm and National Geographic. Hulu, comprised of more adult shows from Disney-owned ABC and 20th Century Fox as well as licensed movies and TV shows, was largely relegated to the sidelines as Disney focused on a global rollout of Disney Plus.

With more than 30 million subscribers, Disney Plus has achieved critical mass in a relatively short amount of time. Now Disney is looking to have the same success with 13-year-old Hulu, which Disney will start making available in other countries as early as next year.

Hulu was launched in October 2007 through a consortium comprised of Disney, Fox and NBC Universal. It offered free, ad-supported access to prime-time TV shows (and later movies) through Internet browsers at a time when YouTube was still coming of age.

Hulu eventually landed on streaming set-top boxes, game consoles, smart TVs, phones and tablets, and with that expansion came a new focus on courting customers to pay for the service. An expanded library of movies and shows filled with back episodes at $8 a month encouraged early cord-cutters to sign up for the service, but it struggled early on to compete with similar offering from Amazon and Netflix, which offered shows and movies without ads.

Hulu eventually rolled out a premium ad-free option for $12 a month. After Disney acquired majority control of the service, it lowered the price point of its premium ad-supported service to $6 a month.

With the exception of a regional variant in Japan, Hulu has never expanded beyond the United States largely due to licensing agreements with third party companies. But late last year, Disney executives said the service would be re-tooled with a focus on current and former FX series after the company lost two key licensing agreements to AT&T’s forthcoming service HBO Max.

Through its acquisition of Fox TV and film assets, Disney owns the rights to most of the programming offered by FX over the years, meaning it doesn’t need to negotiate separate international rights for those shows.

One thing that may hamper international expansion are local regulations regarding original content, especially in Europe where streaming services are required to produce country-specific content. This “content quota” has been criticized by rival services like Netflix, who say requiring streaming services to provide a catalog comprised of at least 30 percent original content made in Europe is a significant business burden.