Hulu restructures under Disney, CEO Randy Freer departs

Sarah Perez

Hulu CEO Randy Freer is stepping down from his role as part of a major restructuring of Disney's direct-to-consumer business, the company announced on Friday. Disney had acquired control of Hulu last year following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox and subsequent deal with NBCU which gave it full operational control. However, the company had largely left Hulu alone to operate as usual until now.

The move signals Disney's plans to streamline its direct to consumer operations, which also today include Disney+ and ESPN+.

Freer joined Hulu in October 2017 after previously serving as president and COO of Fox Networks Group. While there, Hulu grew its subscribers to 29 million, as of a September 2019 SEC filing.

The reorganization will see Hulu's executives now reporting directly to their counterparts at Disney's Direct to Consumer and International business (DTCI), headed by DTCI chairman Kevin Mayer.

The changes will allow Disney to better distribute resources across its various streaming services, as well as take Hulu to international markets more quickly and efficiently.

Hulu's international expansion is something that was already being discussed, even before Disney took full control. In late 2018, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said that the company planned to meet with Hulu's management team after the Fox deal closed in order to go over plans for Hulu's global growth and investing in more original content. The latter would help Hulu to better approach international markets where the streamer wouldn't have as large a catalog from local content owners to offer potential customers.

With Fox, Disney gained access to the Fox studio and FX, which it could use to help fill out Hulu with more original content. And as a part of Disney's DTCI business, it could be easier to experiment with differently priced Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle deals in various countries, instead of having to work with Hulu's leadership on each one.

"I want to thank Randy for his leadership the last two years as CEO and for his collaboration the past several months to ensure an exceptionally bright future for Hulu," Mayer said, in a statement released this weekend. "With the successful launch of Disney+, we are now focused on the benefits of scale within and across our portfolio of DTC businesses. Further integrating the immensely talented Hulu team into our organization will allow us to more effectively and efficiently deploy resources, rapidly grow our presence outside the U.S. and continue to relentlessly innovate. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity ahead, and I am confident in our ability to accelerate our positive momentum and better serve consumers," he added.

Freer offered Disney praise on his way out.

"I am grateful for my time at Hulu, and the opportunity to work and learn with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of people,” Freer said, according to a statement shared by Variety. “I also want to thank Kevin and The Walt Disney Company, as well as NBCUniversal and Fox, for providing me the opportunity to lead Hulu during a time of tremendous growth and significant industry transformation. Hulu has established itself as a leading choice for consumers looking for the best TV service available today, and I am confident Hulu will thrive inside Disney under DTCI’s leadership and resources," he said.