Intel exec Erik Huggers throws his hat into the (surprisingly crowded) Hulu CEO ring

By Michael Carney , written on October 1, 2013

From The News Desk

Early this year, it seemed like no one associated with Hulu wanted to claim ownership of it. In January, the company’s CEO and CTO both announced their resignation, moves that were followed by multiple high level executive departures. Then, Hulu’s corporate owners spent the better part of the spring and summer courting acquirers, only to ditch them at the altar for the second time in as many years. Few in the industry have known what to make of the uncertain path ahead for the premium video streaming giant.

But the tide seems to be turning, with several high profile media and technology executives proactively expressing their interest in taking the reigns at Hulu. Earlier this morning the New York Post reported that Intel Media Corporate Vice-President Erik Huggers has expressed interest in the role.

Huggers, who the post describes as “central to the company’s nascent OnCue TV service” joins Fox Networks Group president Mike Hopkins and former NBCUniversal EVP Lauren Zalaznick as prominent candidates for the seemingly coveted position.

One explanation for the changing tide is the new certainty around Hulu’s future. Having burned several of the same would-be acquirers twice, it’s unlikely that Hulu will get a third chance to shop itself any time soon – at least without onerous walk-away penalties. At the same time, Hulu’s owners 21st Century Fox (formerly News Corp), The Walt Disney Co., and Comcast-owned NBCUniversal have committed an additional $750 million to the company to be used in acquiring additional premium content.

The renewed financial backing also signals that the three old media giants remain committed to the project – something that the employees, partners, consumers, and industry observers rightly questioned just a few months earlier.

Hulu still represents a premium brand in the mind of consumers when it comes to digital video. But the company finds itself in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Netflix is stronger than ever, having seen an overwhelmingly positive response to its original programming, including winning three Emmys one week ago – a first for a non-TV network. The company is also expected to see competition from Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube, HBO, Showtime, and countless others, as the technology and media worlds collide in the battle to own the future of entertainment.

This level of competition is likely to mean two things for Hulu: increasing costs of content acquisition and increased demand on consumers’ already limited attention spans. For any company to remain relevant in this environment, it will need to regularly deliver access to compelling programming and do so at a price point and through a user experience that reduces all friction to subscribing.

Since the departure of former CEO Jason Kilar, former Hulu SVP of content and distribution Andy Forssell has been the company’s acting CEO. Regardless of who ends up in the top spot, the company could use some more certainty in its senior leadership.

While it may seem logical for the company to hire from the ranks of its old media partners and competitors, that would be a mistake. Hulu has access to that world through its ownership group. What the company needs now is someone who has experience in old media, but who thinks like a new media and technology disruptor. In this way, Huggers would seem to be a better option than either Hopkins or Zalaznik.

After starting his career in business development at independent production giant Endemol, Huggers spent a decade in Microsoft’s media technology group, then returned to the old media world with a four-year stint at the BBC, before joining Intel in 2011. This is exactly the type of worlds-straddling resume that Hulu should seek out, as predicated on the background of former CEO Jason Kilar – considered a near universal success by industry observers – who spent time at both Disney and Amazon before taking the top spot at Hulu.

There are no indications from Hulu on the timeframe for appointing its next CEO. Sources tell the Post that the company may prefer to promote from within, strengthening the case that Forssell will soon move from the interim to CEO position to a permanent appointment. For what it’s worth, Forssell has his own tech bonafides, having spent nearly four years at Oracle before joining Hulu.

Like everything else Hulu-related, this executive search appears full of uncertainty and artificial drama. Stay tuned for the next episode of “As the Corner Office Turns.”

[Image via NewMediaRockstars]