Hulu LLC, the video streaming service controlled by Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US) and 21st Century Fox Inc., named Fox Networks distribution president Mike Hopkins as its chief executive officer after a months-long search.
Hopkins, a Hulu board member, replaces acting CEO Andy Forssell, who will leave the company, according to a statement today. Bloomberg News reported on Oct. 10 that Los Angeles-based Hulu was close to hiring Hopkins.
With Hopkins, Hulu gains an executive experienced in negotiating with pay-TV services, a group the company is courting as it seeks to become an online and mobile portal for cable and satellite providers.
“Mike is one of the few guys who can build momentum for making Hulu an authentication service for the pay-TV industry,” David Bank, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets in New York, said in an interview last week. “Hulu could become the definition of TV online.”
21st Century Fox, controlled by Chairman Rupert Murdoch, rose 1.1 percent to $34.32 at the close in New York. Disney, based in Burbank, California, was little changed at $66.42. Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US), a partner in Hulu which is barred from an active management role, advanced 1 percent to $47.47.
Hulu attracts 30 million unique visitors a month to its free, advertiser-supported product and has more than 4 million subscribers who pay $8 a month for expanded content and viewing on more devices.
The company is adding original and exclusive programs to draw viewers and paying subscribers. Hulu is releasing 20 exclusive and original series this year and plans to boost that to 40 within two years, Forssell said in July. When possible, Hulu will provide all episodes of a show at once to paying subscribers, taking a page from larger competitor Netflix Inc. (NFLX:US)
As head of distribution at Fox Networks Group, Hopkins oversaw the division’s growing business of collecting programming fees from pay-TV systems and broadcast affiliates. He was integral in obtaining distribution for FXX and Fox Sports 1, national networks that began broadcasting in August. Fox hasn’t yet named a successor.
Hulu plans to focus on building pay-TV fees to complement advertising and subscriber revenue, according to RBC’s Bank. Hopkins has the experience to make Hulu an online portal for cable and satellite providers, he said.
Disney and Fox dropped plans to sell the TV service in July and agreed to bolster its technology, buy and develop programming, and build up marketing. The companies, along with Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which is barred from an active role in managing Hulu, provided $750 million.
Forssell, who replaced founding CEO Jason Kilar in March, was the company’s senior vice president of content, helping Hulu grow from a startup in 2007 to about $700 million in revenue in 2012, according to a March statement on the company’s website.
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