Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Let Jason Kilar Take a Bow

Hulu CEO Jason Kilar is headed out the door, as is CTO Rich Tom. Other employees at the video site are going soon, as well.

None of that is surprising, and if you’re trying to figure out what that means for Hulu, you’re asking the wrong question.

The real issue for the site is what its corporate owners — Comcast, Disney and News Corp., which also owns this website — want to do with it. We’ll get to follow that story for quite some time.

In the meantime, we can take a minute and give Kilar credit for building and maintaining an influential, important and valuable site many people pronounced dead as soon as it was born.

As Kilar himself notes, Hulu’s unofficial launch name was ClownCo, because any sensible person knew that there was no way Big Media companies could form a worthwhile joint venture, and zero chance they’d be able to create a decent video site. That’s the kind of thing that you left to the smart tech guys at places like Myspace, Veoh and Metacafe.

Surprise! Those guys are gone, and Kilar and his team ended up building a really great website, and then kept it up and running for 5 years, while generating real money by the end of his run. Meanwhile, the site’s value doubled, to $2 billion.

Kilar’s detractors — and he had many, both at the big media companies that owned Hulu and outside of them — argued that anyone who was given access to programming from ABC, Fox and NBC could turn that into a real business, and that he gave himself too much credit for doing so.

But even today, Hulu stands apart from the rest of the pack when it comes to design and experience, and that was most definitely the case back in the old days. If you can’t remember what NBC’s video offerings looked like in 2007, you’re lucky.

And while Kilar also gets knocked about for not playing well with some of his corporate owners, the fact that he kept the thing together this long shows that he was able to accomplish a very difficult juggling act.

Hulu in 2013 isn’t nearly as exciting as Hulu was in 2007, but you can’t blame Kilar for that. The site’s original corporate boosters are long gone, and in their place are people who aren’t nearly as enthusiastic about its chances, and can’t decide what they want to do with it regardless. You can’t blame Kilar for looking around, cashing out his stake and moving on.

I talked with Kilar about a lot of this stuff a year ago, at our first D: Dive into Media Conference (more on next month’s edition here), and you can see our entire conversation below.

Note that my first question to him was about his long-expected departure; not surprisingly, he didn’t really want to answer that then. So I asked him again, near the end of the interview. His response: “I’m not the kind of guy that dabbles in a lot of things; I tend to go deep. And I’m a big believer in the long term. … It’s highly amusing to read all the stuff that gets written, but all I’d ask … is judge me on my history.”

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The Internet is how we cut through the noise and come together. The first key to organizing is trust, and women want to know how they are powerful — the Internet is how they are powerful.

— Shelby Knox, director of women’s rights site, on a panel this Saturday called “The Digital Lives of Girls,” moderated by Chelsea Clinton