Days After Facing Blowback, Hulu Will Allow Issue-based Political Ads

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Hulu learned the hard way that avoiding controversy can itself become a controversy.

On Wednesday, the Disney-backed streaming service said it will open the door for politicians to place ads that address heated issues on its services, days after it was lambasted by critics for a don’t-rock-the-boat policy.

Jumping Through Hulu Hoops

As a streaming service, Hulu is not regulated by the Communications Act of 1934, which requires broadcast TV networks to give politicians equal access. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that last week the company, which has a policy of not running ad content it deems controversial, rejected ads without explanation on abortion and gun safety that were submitted by Democratic campaign groups. The ads did air, however, on Disney-owned television networks.

By Tuesday, a top Democratic advertising firm threatened to cut its business with Hulu and protests against the streamer became the top trending topic on Twitter. While the attempt at staying under-the-radar clearly set off all kinds of sensors, Hulu’s gaffe may end up a blessing in disguise:

  • Going forward, Hulu says its streaming ads will follow the same guidelines as Disney-owned television networks like ESPN and ABC, “but reserves the right to request edits.”
  • The 2022 midterm US election cycle will see $7.8 billion spent on political advertising, according to data analytics firm Kantar. Roughly $1.2 billion will be spent on over-the-top services and connected TV ads, a category that includes streaming.

The Others: When Disney launches an advertising tier for streaming service Disney+ later this year, it has already told advertisers that political and alcohol spots will get a no thank you. Netflix, dealing with subscriber losses, is developing its own ad-supported tier, but hasn’t outlined any policies.