“We’re about to ruin TV for you,” Hulu’s latest slogan proclaims in bold block letters — part of a new marketing strategy for the company.
Honestly, though, the streaming platform has been “ruining” network TV since its inception in 2007. Shannon Sullivan, Hulu’s senior vice president of talent & organization, started in 2012 and saw a lot of it happen firsthand.
Hulu initially offered digital, slightly delayed versions of shows that already had aired on TV. Then it started expanding. The platform released its first original show in 2012, the year Sullivan arrived. In 2018, Hulu launched a live TV feature that offered more than 60 channels, including NBC, Lifetime and the Food Network.
For Sullivan, the live TV rollout was a watershed moment.
“Seeing the team pull together for a year... that was just a real event for me personally,” she said. “I was proud of what we delivered.”
Hulu has also expanded its original content offerings, which have been garnering critical raves.
“[T]he performances deliver, completely,” the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum wrote of Hulu’s comedy PEN15.
The platform’s drama The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name, has won a whopping eight Emmys.
As of May 2019, Hulu had amassed 28 million subscribers — more than quadruple the population of Switzerland. Perhaps one day TV channels will start airing syndicated versions of Hulu shows, and the role reversal will be complete.
What’s it like to work for the innovative streaming service? We visited Hulu HQ in Santa Monica, California, to find out.
Hulu’s headquarters sits at 2500 Broadway in Santa Monica, on a campus the company shares (for now) with HBO and assorted tech startups. Hulu chose this area because it’s near Playa Vista, the unofficial Silicon Valley of SoCal. It’s not the only tech giant in the vicinity — Amazon’s L.A. offices are across the street.
Commuting in L.A. is never easy, but the company makes driving to and from the office as simple as possible. There’s a three-story underground parking garage beneath the building, and it’s also near the Expo Line.
More than half of Hulu’s 2,400 global employees work out of the Santa Monica office: 1,400, to be exact. A large number of these employees — or, as they’re called internally, “Hulugans” — work in tech roles (whether as developers, IT professionals or audiovisual personnel) alongside a host of creatives: marketers, content buyers and the like. Hulu’s HR department works out of Santa Monica, too. It’s a pretty representative cross-section of the company as a whole. The only employees not represented are customer service representatives — or, as Hulu calls them, “viewer experience advocates.”
A visitor could almost mistake the Santa Monica campus for a resort. Palm trees and other tropical greenery cover the grounds. Just outside the entrance to the office, there’s even a tennis court (open to employees, of course).
Inside, Hulu’s 325,000 square feet of office space sprawl across three buildings and nine floors. The whole sprawl is suffused with Hulu’s culture, which is rooted in five core values: focusing on the viewer, thinking big, working as a team, including everyone and embracing fun.
“The five values that we have as a company are actually real here,” Sullivan said. “People believe them.”
Fun, especially, plays a key role. Sullivan said that she has fun even in high-pressure meetings, thanks to touches like ice breakers, mindfulness exercises and a collective sense of levity. As Sullivan’s previous manager used to tell her, “We’re putting TV on the internet. We’re not doing brain surgery.”
A sense of play even comes through in the office’s decor — it’s studded with Hulu-green touches and free snacks.
Here are some key takeaways from our tour.
It’s like working inside a TV.
In Hulu’s offices, you never forget that this an entertainment company. In the entryway, two TVs play looping previews for Hulu shows. Glass awards cases display Emmys, Critics Choice Awards and other accolades. Many conference rooms are named after TV settings — like Pawnee, from Parks and Recreation, and Central Perk, from Friends. And at the bottom of one staircase, there’s a spooky mural of Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss in full handmaid regalia. She’s “more than lifesize,” Sullivan noted.
The entryway doubles as a photo directory.
Hulu’s entryway features a floor-to-ceiling grid of black-and-white headshots — one for every Hulu employee.
“They have a lot of meaning for us,“ Sullivan said. “Everyone here is important. This whole thing works because of every single individual working together.”
The photos are both important and goofy. Shot in an on-site studio with two rules — you can’t bring in live animals or set anything on fire — the images feature cartoon cutouts, photoshopped fireplaces and full-body cat costumes.
Sullivan, for her part, posed for her portrait in mid-chaturanga. (Chaturanga is a yoga pose a bit like the bottom of a push-up.) “When I started at Hulu, I was much more athletic,” she joked.
It’s hard to get lost.
Hulu’s massive space can feel disorienting to newcomers. The company is so committed to wayfinding, though, that they’ve engineered an internal Google Maps — called Hulunav — that helps employees chart efficient routes to and from in-office landmarks. Office corridors are even labeled with street signs to help people get around.
Employees vote on the names of the streets near their work stations, some of which (like Darwin and Deejay) are pretty whimsical. Sullivan, for her part, works near Melrose — a nod to TV drama Melrose Place and L.A.’s real Melrose Avenue.
New parents get more than paid leave.
All new parents at Hulu get 20 weeks of paid parental leave, whether their child is adopted or biological. Hulu also offers perks like a childcare budget, counseling for new and expecting parents and a complimentary rental crib. Made by a company called Snoo, the smart crib automatically rocks a baby back to sleep whenever it fusses or cries.
“The idea here was, ‘Let’s be comprehensive,’” Sullivan said.
Avocados and donuts abound.
Hulu HQ has a whopping 11 snack kitchens on the premises, stocked with free snacks like avocados, Cheez-Its, granola and ramen. On Fridays, the office also gets donuts: the day Built In visited, it was DK’s Donuts.
Carless commuters get tons of support.
Commuting in L.A.’s infamous rush hour traffic isn’t just a stop-and-go nightmare — it’s hard on the environment. Hence Hulu’s green commute initiative, which incentivizes employees to make eco-friendly transportation choices.
“It’s our small effort to help the environment and help ease traffic in Santa Monica,” Sullivan explained.
For instance, Hulu runs a shuttle service that privately ferries employees to and from work. The Hulu team analyzed data to find the four L.A. counties where employees clustered most; each got its own route.
The initiative encompasses a slew of other offerings, too: a carpooling app; a quarterly cash stipend for traveling to work in alternative ways; a bike cage; and a stipend for employees who opt out of parking in the garage.
The Simpsons family roams the premises.
At Hulu, all-hands meetings take place in “The Well,” a lofty, two-story meeting area. Tiered, staircase-style seating rises up from the stage. When Built In visited, the very back row was occupied by TV’s favorite cartoon family: The Simpsons. Life-sized acrylic statues of them, anyway.
It hasn’t always been that way, though. The Simpsons statues, which Hulu received as a gift back in 2007, move around the office in unpredictable ways.
“Probably a year ago, I walked into the bathroom one day, and one of them was in a stall,” Sullivan said. “I had no clue why.”