Hulu names Fox exec Hopkins as CEO; interim head Forssell to leave company

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Online video service Hulu named Fox executive Mike Hopkins as its new CEO Thursday, ending speculation over the company’s leadership as it embarks on a period of expansion.

The announcement comes three months after Hulu’s owners — media giants 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp. — announced in July they had called off their second attempt in three years to sell it and would instead invest $750 million more to ensure its future growth.

In a memo to staff, Hopkins indicated that plans for how to spend that capital could define his tenure.

“With the foundation you have built, the significant capital infusion of three quarters of a billion dollars, and our partners aligned and fully supportive of what we need to get it done, the sky is the limit for Hulu,” he said.

Since March, Hulu has been run on an interim basis by former content executive Andy Forssell, who is leaving the company. Forssell stood in for Jason Kilar, the company’s CEO since its founding in 2007. Kilar departed in March with former chief technology officer Richard Tom to form a technology startup in San Francisco called The Fremont Project.

Hulu has said it’s on track to post about $1 billion in revenue this year, up from $695 million last year. It had about 4 million subscribers of the $8-a-month Hulu Plus, as well as 30 million visitors a month to its free service. It also makes money by selling advertising on both free and paid services.

Hopkins, who has served on the Hulu board since 2011, was president of distribution for Fox Networks Group, where he oversaw Fox’s on-demand and digital offerings including apps such as Fox Now. The app requires proof of a pay TV subscription from certain providers such as Verizon and Comcast in order to watch full episodes of TV Shows like “American Dad” on mobile devices.

Fox, like The CW, keeps new episodes off of the free version of Hulu for eight days after they first air on TV. Getting next-day access requires a subscription to Hulu Plus. Fox also makes new episodes available a day after airing if people prove they have a pay TV subscription from certain providers.

ABC and NBC, in contrast, make their new episodes available on the free version of Hulu a day after airing regardless of whether or not someone has a pay TV subscription already.

Rich Greenfield, media analyst at brokerage services company BTIG, said it’s too early to draw any conclusions about what changes are in store for Hulu, including whether proof of a pay TV subscription becomes the norm across the service for access to other networks’ recent shows.

“I think the real question is how aggressive does Hulu go on original programming, beyond just being a distributor of recent content from the networks that own it,” Greenfield said.

Since the re-investment announcement in July, Hulu has added more content to its platform, including BBC shows like “Sherlock” and an original supernatural comedy called “Deadbeat,” which it is co-producing with Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and will release next year.