3 Big Questions About Hulu's Future

Today's big news is that Hulu, the online video site created by News Corp, Disney, and NBC, is preparing for an IPO this fall.

The New York Times says that insiders value the company at $2 billion, although we don't know how that valuation was made. All we really know is that the company might generate $200 million in revenue this year, most of which goes to the content partners right off the top. We have no idea how much profit Hulu generates. We have no idea how well Hulu's forthcoming paid subscription service will do.

The problems of valuing [pdf] almost any young technology company are well-known. And in this situation, we have even less information to go on than normal. What we do know is that any kind of large valuation for Hulu assumes that certain things are or will be true. Here are three big questions that occurred to us.

  • In a reverse of print-digital advertising divide for magazines and newspapers, Hulu commands higher ad rates than broadcast or cable TV. The single-show, single-sponsor model has worked really well. People seem to remember the Hulu ads they watch, which makes advertisers happy. But as viewers watch more of their television online, will they become inured to Hulu's ads? If so, Hulu's CPM, the amount advertisers pay for 1,000 views, could drop.
  • As Jon Gruber points out, Hulu is "a brand new middleman in a world where middlemen are going away." There is no guarantee that the company can hold together the (rather fragile) coalition of companies who have gone in together on the venture. Viacom, for example, has pulled out of the partnership. Gruber doubts that the company will actually make it to a public stock offering.
  • But let's assume that Hulu does go public. Then, it'll be subject to the demands of investors, who may want to squeeze more gold out of the goose. One option would be to increase the number of commercials that people have to watch per show. If Hulu ups its per hour "ad load," will viewers bolt for other services?