Hulu Restructures Brand-Content Team as Division's Head Departs

Hulu's Head of Brand Content Bryan Thoensen to Leave Company

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As seemingly every other digital media company hops on the branded-content trend, Hulu is headed in the opposite direction.

Hulu is restructuring its brand-content division that pitches brands on producing programs to distribute on the digital video service, and its head of brand content Bryan Thoensen has left the company, according to people familiar with the matter. Hulu's reworked brand strategy is said to focus on selling sponsorships for the company's self-produced original series as opposed to also developing shows with brands and agencies.

A slide from Hulu's 2014 NewFronts pitch deck outlining its brand content work.
A slide from Hulu's 2014 NewFronts pitch deck outlining its brand content work.

"As Hulu's content slate has grown, we have evolved to offer advertisers more comprehensive integrated solutions, including targeted integration into Original Series," Hulu said in a statement. "As part of this process, the integrated marketing team will work more closely with the Ad Solutions team to offer clients fully integrated, cross-platform opportunities." The company declined to comment on Mr. Thoensen's departure. Mr. Thoensen did not respond to a LinkedIn message seeking comment.

Hulu's brand-content division had sold marketers like Ford and Subway on funding programs that the brand would produce either on its own or with Hulu and then distribute on the digital video service.

Earlier this year Hulu premiered a docu-series that it produced with GroupM's entertainment arm. Subway and anti-smoking organization Truth signed on as sponsors.

Mr. Thoensen joined Hulu in 2011 to launch its brand-content organization. He had previously been VP-marketing at Hollywood talent agency WME and is considered "a left-right brain combo who gets talent, gets creative and gets the business side," according to one person who asked not to be identified.

But it seems Mr. Thoensen was in the middle of a tug-of-war between the objectives of brands and Hulu's owners -- Comcast's NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC -- when it came to securing branded-entertainment deals.

"Branded content almost lives in a purgatory between media, creatives and publishers. It's smart because it ties to content, but everybody and nobody owns it, which means everybody or nobody will buy it," said 360i CEO Sarah Hofstetter. She said that if Hulu were to recalibrate it's brand content team's focus toward sponsorships of Hulu's original series, "it gives [Hulu] more control and puts them in the driver seat."

"They had a fairly rigid model that felt more like a TV model. They're competing against a lot of other digital publishers like Yahoo or AOL who are approaching [branded content] through a digital lens with more flexibility on rights and creative input. Hulu, given its heritage, saw it more through a TV lens," said DigitasLBi senior VP and social content practice lead John McCarus.

The digital video service's decision to restructure its brand-content team is said to be part of a broader shift toward producing more original programming a la Netflix and reducing the company's reliance on brand dollars. Last month the New York Post reported that Hulu is considering cutting the number of ads that run on its paid-subscription service Hulu Plus.

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