Hulu will finally expand outside of the U.S., likely as soon as next year. This tidbit of news was confirmed by Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger on this week's earnings call with investors. Disney now has full operational control of Hulu, following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox and subsequent deal with NBCU. That has given it the means to streamline Hulu's operations and international plans -- as it began to do this week with the Hulu reorg that included the departure of Hulu CEO Randy Freer.
Disney said it wanted to better integrate Hulu with its direct-to-consumer operations, which is the first step toward being able to make good on its international ambitions.
The company is also now beginning to leverage the assets it acquired by way of the Fox deal to grow Hulu's original content lineup. Starting next month, for example, Hulu will become the exclusive streaming service for all new FX Original programming. In addition, Hulu will offer in-season streaming of current FX shows and back seasons for most of its current and library series to subscribers.
An expanded original content library helps Hulu attract subscribers in markets where its catalog may not be as robust as here in the U.S. That includes not only FX but also content from Disney's other studio efforts that don't meet the "family-friendly" threshold for launching on Disney+ -- like Marvel's R-rated movies, for instance.
Disney didn't confirm a precise time frame for Hulu's international launch, as Iger said the first priority is the global rollout of Disney+, which has had a booming start. The company announced that Disney+, which only launched in mid-November, has already grown to 26.5 million paying subscribers. Hulu, by comparison, has 30.4 million in total, but has been around for roughly 12 years.
But now Hulu is benefiting from the Disney+ demand, by way of the bundle deal that wraps Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ together for $12.99 per month. That has helped to lower churn rates, Disney said.
According to Iger, Disney+ will roll out to Western Europe in March, then India on March 29, followed by the rest of the world going into 2021, including Latin America.
"We feel that we need to concentrate on those launches, in the marketing and the creation of product for those and then come in with Hulu right after or soon after that," said Iger. "So we don't have specifics, except we do plan to begin rolling Hulu out, I'd say probably in 2021 -- internationally that is -- after the Disney Plus launch," he added.