Hulu Struggles To Survive The Influence Of Its Parent Companies

It’s an unseasonably warm summer day, and Jason Kilar is “in the zone,” as he puts it, buzzing around his Santa Monica, California, headquarters, putting the final touches on a massive redesign of Hulu, the streaming TV and movie service he runs. Despite the heat, and despite a deadline that is only weeks away, the boyish 41-year-old CEO looks calm and collected. (He always looks this way, actually.) He’s dressed in his uniform of jeans and a dark blue T-shirt peeking out from under an über-starched button-down, and his thick turf of hair is cut in what looks like a $17 mow from Fantastic Sam’s. As he natters on about the new site, walking me through its tray-style layout and a feature that lets you pick up exactly where you last left off watching a show, it’s easy to see why people liken him to a grown-up Boy Scout. “This morning we had a 45-minute debate on the amount of gradient on the sticky header!” Kilar boasts, standing in a cluttered warren of darkened offices from which members of the design team periodically emerge, blinking like moles. Kilar’s obsession with user experience–one source says it borders on “maniacal”–is a large part of why Hulu has created a service that customers have deemed “brain-spray awesome.”

But as Kilar frets about the opacity of a tiny black line and the exact placement of a button, Hulu’s corporate parents–News Corp., Disney, and Comcast/NBCUniversal–are fretting about Hulu. The day before Kilar’s redesign was finally unveiled, Variety published excerpts from an internal memo that had been circulating among those owners. One of the bullet points: “Outline transition plan for new CEO. Discuss potential candidates and process.” Kilar, who just three years ago was the wunderkind of digital media, now appears to be on the verge of being dispatched by his bosses–after which they may dismantle much of what he’s created at Hulu.

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