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Hulu passes 20 million US subscribers, says offline downloads are coming

Hulu passes 20 million US subscribers, says offline downloads are coming

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Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Hulu today announced that it now has over 20 million subscribers in the United States. That's up from the 17 million that the company reported back in January. So between the start of the year and now, Hulu has brought on 3 million more paying customers. The company says “total engagement: is up by 60 percent. That 20 million total is spread across Hulu's various service tiers including its core ad-supported service, Hulu with No Commercials, and Hulu with Live TV. Hulu still trails Netflix in subscriber count by a wide margin. In its Q1 2018 earnings, Netflix tallied 55 million US streaming customers.

A new combo subscription with Spotify is certain to help boost Hulu’s momentum, but most people aren’t streaming Hulu on their smartphones. The bulk of Hulu viewing takes place in the living room; 78 percent of streaming happens on connected TVs, according to today’s press release.

Hulu also revealed that a new “ad-supported downloadable content experience” is coming. It will allow subscribers to store content on their device to watch when they’re without a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection. Netflix added an offline mode in November 2016, and I’ve routinely asked Ben Smith — Hulu’s VP of user experience — when the company would offer its own equivalent. The answer has always been that it’s something Hulu is interested in and looking at, with no firm timetable given for when it might arrive. Now it seems we’re getting somewhere.

Hulu is going to make customers on its base subscription sit through ads in exchange for the convenience of watching something offline, saying “the new feature will make it possible for subscribers to access their favorite shows and movies on the go, with no internet connection required, and will give advertisers the opportunity to reach their target audiences in a viewing experience never before available to advertisers.” I’m not sure what that last bit will look like in practice, but hopefully these ads won’t be too bothersome.

If you pay for Hulu sans commercials, you won’t see any ads with your offline downloads. Just note that like Netflix, it’s also very possible that only some of the content in Hulu’s catalog will be eligible for downloads.

Update May 2nd 11:15AM ET: Added clarification that Hulu with No Commercials won’t include advertising for offline viewing.