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Hulu Finally Gets Serious With Original TV Series -- But Is It Too Little, Too Late?

Hulu looks to compete more aggressively with Amazon and Netflix.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

A little more than two years into Mike Hopkins’s tenure as head of Hulu, the streaming television service is finally getting serious about original series.

The sci-fi series “11.22.63” debuted on Hulu this week, starring James Franco as a teacher who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Next month “The Path,” a drama that focuses on the family at the center of a cult, comes to the service.

“What we’re trying to do is give creators the resources they need … and go for it,” Hopkins said at the Code/Media conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Calif.

Hopkins dismisses any notion that it’s too little, too late for Hulu to compete with Netflix and Amazon. Its network owners — ABC, Fox and Comcast-owned NBC* — are finally devoting substantial resources to original programming. But the service, launched in 2007 to ride the wave of online video, still lacks a defining show like “Orange Is the New Black” or “Transparent.”

“We’re not frustrated at all,” said Hopkins of this reality. “We’ve really just started and we’re satisfied with where we are today. We launched our first originals, in this new regime, four months ago.”

Hopkins said Hulu is competing with Netflix, Amazon and others for the rights to popular shows — snagging one prominent win, the Fox drama “Empire.”

“Everybody bid on it, we were fortunate to have the winning bid,” said Hopkins. “Part of our pitch to suppliers is, ‘It’s not just here’s a check. We’re going to promote back to network.'”

Hulu has adapted its subscription service to attract more subscribers, offering an ad-free version in addition to the $7.99-a-month fee to watch TV shows on multiple screens. That’s a major shift for a company whose media owners rely heavily on television advertising.

“There are two types of subscribers: Ad-avoiders and ad-accepters,” said Hopkins. “You find that people who are ad-avoiders are rabidly so. They wouldn’t come and subscribe to Hulu if we didn’t do this. What we found was it was eating away at the core of our brand.”

Hulu still has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with its rivals. Hulu last reported nine million paying customers about a year ago — a number that’s likely exceed 10 million now, but still far fewer than the 75 million Netflix reported and the estimated and 46 million Amazon Prime subscribers.

* NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this website.

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