Hulu CEO to Big Media: Serve Consumers or Lose Them

At American Magazine Conference, Jason Kilar Tells Attendees to Stop Protecting Outdated Business Models

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CHICAGO ( -- Big media companies have to show enough spine to charge for certain content, but they can't obsess over protecting the business models that originally paid for their gleaming corporate offices, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar told an audience of publishers during the American Magazine Conference in Chicago today.

Jason Kilar
Jason Kilar
Asked about the famous lament by NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker -- who teamed up with News Corp. to start Hulu in the first place -- that he didn't want to trade analog dollars for digital pennies, Mr. Kilar said he'd already told Mr. Zucker where he was wrong. "You can't be in the business of protecting," he said.

That's particularly true because media consumption is basically an optional activity, he said. It's habitual and important for most of us, he argued, but no one's going to actually die if they don't see the latest episode of "30 Rock." And within media, as the magazine publishers in the room were well aware, mushrooming options mean you've got to serve consumers or lose them. It's no sure thing that a young person's going to watch "The Amazing Race" instead of visiting Facebook. "Content is discretionary, so you better focus on convenience," he told the audience.

All that said, Hulu has been anticipating the introduction of a pay service for years, according to Mr. Kilar, who was interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel. "You can't have a one-size fits all approach," Mr. Kilar said.

Now that Hulu Plus, which offers extras such as "season passes" to shows and enables viewing on mobile devices, is in a private beta, you can expect it to eventually materialize on all kinds of platforms, Mr. Kilar predicted. "You're going to see us pretty much anywhere there's an internet connected device," he said.

He also predicted a new "golden age of media," fueled by increasing demand for content from distributors such as Hulu, Netflix and, presumably, the tablet computers in which magazine publishers are investing so much time, money and hope. "The thing you want most is intense competition on the distribution side of things," Mr. Kilar said.

That's happening in the video space as entrepreneurs try to answer consumers' unmet needs. "I think you're going to see the same thing for print," he said.

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