Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hulu: We’re Profitable, Booming

Hulu turned two years old a few weeks ago. And now it wants to throw itself a party, in the form of positive PR.

The joint-venture video site–owned by News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox, GE’s (GE) NBC, Disney’s (DIS) ABC and Providence Equity Partners–hasn’t uttered a peep about its finances until this week. But now Hulu wants the world to know it is making a profit and that ad sales are booming.

Hulu says it generated “over” $100 million in revenue last year and turned a profit in the last quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. The company says it will pass the $100 million figure by the middle of this year.

That revenue total is a gross number, so you can subtract more than half the amount from the top. That’s because Hulu gives anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent of all ad sales to its content partners, who supply its programming. And bear in mind that the company is footing the bill for at least a billion video streams a month.

But I double-checked with the company, and when it says “profitable,” it means “profitable,” as in net income after all expenses, taxes, depreciation, etc.

So even if the number isn’t huge, a profit is well worth bragging about, because I can’t think of another Web video company that has claimed one so far. And that includes Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, for the time being.

What put Hulu over the hump? Getting CEO Jason Kilar to say anything of interest about his company is pretty much a futile exercise, but I tried anyway, and got this response: “We’re a distribution business. And a lot of that is a function of how you manage your business, and getting scale, and we’ve been very fortunate to achieve both.”

And that’s about as candid as Kilar gets in public.

The downside for Kilar is that his network owners are still not entirely comfortable with the company’s model, and are worried that all the free programming Hulu offers cuts into existing businesses. Hence, the push for a subscription plan, which, as I reported in February, will include an app for Apple’s (AAPL) iPad. More on that later.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik