Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hulu’s Employee Owners Are Just Employees Again, Which Means Some May Be Ex-Employees Soon


Hulu’s employees used to be owners, too. But those days are over, so they’re going to have to be happy with a paycheck and some bonuses.

That’s the upshot of a new long-term incentive plan I’m told the video site is prepping. It’s meant to replace the equity stakes Hulu’s employees cashed out earlier this fall. And it should be going into effect soon.

The move is small but symbolic: Hulu used to be a start-up, and the people who worked there had the potential for a big payout if things went really, really well. But investor Providence Equity Partners sold its stake in the site in October, and that let Hulu employees sell too. The company’s value doubled, to $2 billion, in five years, so many of them did do well. But not sit-on-a-beach-and-count-your-money well.

Now, it’s purely a Big Media asset — Hulu is co-owned by Comcast, Disney and News Corp. (which also owns this Web site) — and the employees who stick around will be Big Media employees.

So who’s going to stick around? As always, there is plenty of chatter about CEO Jason Kilar’s next move, but that chatter has been going on for years, and he’s still there.

That said, if someone does present Kilar with a great opportunity — say, the chance to run a start-up that’s already up and running, but that has the potential to get really, really, big — he can now head out without reservation. He has taken the company much further than many expected and has also gotten his team paid.

Some of Kilar’s senior team could head out the door regardless. Both Andy Forssell, who heads up Hulu’s content efforts, and Jean-Paul Colaco, who runs ad sales, are frequently mentioned by people outside the company as candidates for new jobs.

Meanwhile, people who have talked to other Hulu employees say some of them either have new gigs lined up or have begun looking for them. After the cash-out in October, Hulu paid out additional bonuses to get some senior managers and key employees to stick around through the end of 2012. But now those payouts are done as well, so it won’t be surprising if you see an exodus in the new year.

Hulu’s corporate owners seem resigned to that notion, and seem confident that they can hire replacements if necessary. As The Wall Street Journal noted last week, the really big issue for the company is that its corporate owners don’t agree about what they want to do with the site going forward. If News Corp. and Disney can’t figure that out, it doesn’t matter who’s still there to run it.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work