As Netflix raises prices, Hulu drops them—and acquires all its old favorites

The leading ladies of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The leading ladies of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Watch out, Netflix. Hulu is coming for you.

The US streaming service, which has been a distant third in the streaming wars behind global juggernauts Netflix and Amazon, is making a play for America’s TV-loving streamers.

With the fall 2017 TV season kicking off in earnest this week, Hulu slashed the price of its ad-supported package from $7.99 a month to $5.99 for new and returning customers. The offer—available through January and good for the first year of service—was part of a bid to draft more subscribers while fresh TV shows were premiering and returning to the air.

But it also undercut Netflix, which just raised the price of its most popular monthly plan by $1 in the US and hiked the rate for its premium package a week earlier. It’s now priced at $7.99 for the basic tier, $10.99 for the standard, and $13.99 for the premium.

Netflix built its brand on the backs of licensed TV shows and movies, but has since focused more on producing original content to set itself apart from the stiffening competition. Netflix’s loss has been Hulu’s gain; it has picked up many of the TV greats that used to be on Netflix, like 30 Rock, The Bernie Mac Show, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as beloved shows like Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, and How I Met Your Mother. 

This year, Hulu bought the streaming rights to more than 3,000 episodes of TV, including past hits like 30 Rock and current shows like ABC’s Black-ish, Bloomberg reported.

Many of these shows were also produced or carried by Hulu’s owners—Walt Disney, Comcast, 21st Century Fox, and Time Warner. Hulu has been willing to work with them by promoting their networks, like NBC, during episodes of the shows it carries, such as This Is Us, and sharing a slice of the ad revenue it earns during those programs, the publication reported. That’s something the networks can’t get on Netflix, which pays more for series upfront but doesn’t have ads.

Hulu still has a ways to go to catch up to Netflix, however. The global behemoth had 104 million subscribers as of June, while Hulu, which does not disclose paying subscriber numbers, had 47 million US unique viewers as of May.

Yet last month, Hulu leapfrogged both its larger rivals to become the first streaming service to win a best series award at the primetime Emmys with The Handmaid’s Tale—a production both Netflix and Amazon previously passed on. If it can build on that momentum with new original series, of which it has a slate lined up, and its growing catalog of oldies but goodies, it could score new subscribers turned off by the more expensive Netflix packages.

Read this next: In a world without TV sets, what do we call TV?

And this, too: The cord-cutter’s guide for what TV to watch this fall 2017