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PARDON YOUR INTERRUPTION

Hulu will soon run ads when you pause for a snack or bathroom break

Ashley Rodriguez
By Ashley Rodriguez

Reporter

Next time you press pause on Hulu to use the bathroom, you might be shown an advertisement for Charmin toilet paper.

The US streaming-video service is introducing a new advertising format this year that displays a visual ad when people pause to take a break during a binge-watching session. If you pause the player during an episode of Marvel’s Runaways, for example, an overlay may appear on the right side of the screen with an ad featuring the Charmin bear, as in the image above. It takes a few moments to appear, to prevent the ad from displaying when pausing to fast-forward, rewind, or otherwise adjust the player.

Hulu is beta testing the pause ads with advertisers Coca-Cola and Charmin, and plans to bring them to some of the programming in its on-demand library in the second quarter of this year. The ads will be shown to subscribers of two of Hulu’s four plans: its on-demand plan, which costs $8 per month as of now and includes ads, as well as to those who watch on-demand programming within Hulu’s live-TV plan which includes ads. The pause ads are not being introduced to Hulu’s live-TV channels at this time, or the plans that exclude advertising.

Unlike larger rival Netflix, which relies mainly on revenue from subscriptions, Hulu’s streaming-video model includes both subscription and advertising revenue. The ad revenue allowed the company to lower the price of its most popular plan, which includes advertising, by $2 this month, while Netflix raised prices in the US to pay for its growing content bill.

Hulu says it limits advertising to about two minutes of commercial interruptions per hour, compared to roughly 16 minutes (paywall) on cable. New formats like the pause ads also take advantage of the breaks viewers initiate themselves. Still, people who are frustrated with TV ads may be resistant to seeing more advertising pop up in their streaming sessions.

Ads that are subtler and less disruptive than traditional TV commercials will make up a larger share of ads on Hulu over time, Jeremy Helfand, head of ad platforms at Hulu, tells Quartz.

“It’s not about, ‘How do we get more ads into a piece of content?” says Helfand. “It’s really about, ‘How do we think differently about aligning brand messaging with content, so the viewers can do exactly what they intended to do, which is enjoy a great storytelling experience.'”

Hulu aims to generate half of its ad revenue from these non-disruptive ad formats by 2021, the company previously said (paywall). It is also exploring other non-disruptive formats, like ads that are integrated into content, such as digitally imposed product placement, Helfand says.

Telecom giant AT&T, which owns streaming services like DirecTV Now, also plans this year to introduce ads when people pause programming, Variety reported. Those are expected to be video ads, while the pause ads on Hulu contain no motion or sound. Hulu found during user testing that video and sound were too jarring for people after they had pressed pause.

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