The Hulu Generation

With the advent of streaming Netflix, Hulu, Google TV and Apple TV, the shift towards web delivered television is accelerating. In my home, we’re considering canceling cable now that 99% of what we watch is on Hulu or Netflix. Recently, I realized that my two young children didn’t have a concept of “live” TV. They’ve been raised in an on demand media world and the concept of having to watch a show at a certain time because that’s when the TV executives wanted to air it doesn’t make any sense to them.

These sorts of shifts always happen within certain demographics first. They tend to be ignored, or even mocked by other demographics until they go mainstream (I’m still shocked that anyone would choose to go without a landline, but today 25% of American households are cellular only).

What that means is that today, if you watch Hulu, you will see advertisements that are designed for a very specific demographic. But interestingly, this is a demographic that may very well be a leading indicator of future interests.

That’s why I’m amazed, and pleased, to see that the majority (yes, more than half) of ads served up on Hulu have some sort of social impact message. Whether it is corporations positioning themselves as good social citizens, or the hot nonprofit Vittana running ads they could never afford to run in prime time, Hulu ads seems to assume that viewers are globally minded citizens who seek blended value as they engage with the world.

But I was particularly struck by this ad for an MBA program at the University of Phoenix. The message: Traditional MBA programs teach you how to ruin the world.

In my mind, the overall takeaway from the ads running on web-based TV, is that it isn’t cool to not care anymore. Across a huge range of engagement types, the demographic of people who are early adopters of this sort of media want a blended value experience.


  1. Hey Sean

    Great post. I think it is accurate that there is a generational shift towards just expecting blended value experiences. Another piece of evidence is Zynga’s announcement yesterday that, going forward 100% of charity virtual goods sales will go to nonprofits, rather than 50% which they’ve sometimes done in the past.

    One interesting side note in your assessment though…Although Hulu is full of great talent (for example Andrew Lin, former VP of Technology at Hulu who left to join Catchafire this year), and has a great program for nonprofit exposure, it is also an attempt of the old gatekeepers of media to simply shift their authority to a new medium. They still control access to content in a way that is fundamentally disimilar from other content-driven industries, and not necessarily for the better. Same goes for “Vevo” the music video service distributed via YouTube, and similarly funded by old media actors.

    I’m hoping for an even more disruptive next generation, in which old media peddling old content loses even more power.

  2. Dave Algoso says:

    Evidently many (all?) of the NGO ads are part of Hulu’s strategy for collecting user information. Hulu lets survey respondents choose an NGO to receive free ads.

    More information here:

    • Thanks for the link Dave. But regardless of why Hulu is doing it, I think the important point is that the audience that Hulu has wants something fundamentally different from a traditional TV audience. That’s the shift I’m interested in.

  3. Paul Botts says:

    My household will soon tell our local cable providers where to stick their terrible customer service and oligopolistic pricing, replacing them with a combination of Clear broadband and one of the new dedicated settop boxes to stream Hulu/Netflix/whatever directly into our TV.

    Meanwhile as someone who gave up having a land line five years and two moves ago, I can honestly say that I have never once had occasion to miss it.

  4. Thanks Sean for a great post. It’s great to see so much ad space being donated to non profits and causes within this new demographic.

    One additional question is whether Hulu and others will still consider this strategy in a more healthy economic environment when their ad space is valued higher by bigger players.

    It has been frustrating how little attention the social sector is able to command with the general population, and while donated and remnant space is definitely a nice gift, will it ever go far enough to tip the balance?

    We are currently doing our first “alpha” tests with a social ad buying platform called LoudSauce that will allow people to crowdfund bought media space for ideas and causes that they believe in. We are testing our hypothesis that people who understand and believe in the power of advertising to shape public perception and drive cultural and economic change will put their money where their values are.

    Imagine a world in which mainstream television audiences were exposed to more ads drive civic participation than driving consumption. With the help of leaders like Hulu, perhaps that time is closer than we think, but I bet we will probably need to buy some of that time.

    • Interesting concept Colin, good luck! I would note that on Hulu, it isn’t just nonprofit ads, the for-profit ads often have a social angle (like the University of Phoenix ad, which is a for-profit university).