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Hulu will take political ads on contentious issues after a social media outcry

Streaming service Hulu is now allowing political ad buyers to address issues like abortion rights and gun control.
Budrul Chukrut
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Streaming service Hulu is now allowing political ad buyers to address issues like abortion rights and gun control.

The streaming service Hulu says it will start accepting advertising about contentious political issues like abortion rights and gun control.

The policy change follows a backlash earlier this week on social media from Democratic groups protesting the fact the streaming service refused to run some of their ads.

"For them to block us from being able to communicate the gravity of the times that we're in was hugely problematic for us," said Julie Norton, founding partner at Mosaic Communications, a media consultancy firm that buys ads for Democratic clients.

Since Hulu's parent company, Disney, announced Wednesday it would bring the streamer into alignment with its cable services and allow political ads to run, Norton said her firm now might be able to work with the streamer.

"We just have a broader definition of television these days," Norton said. "So these platforms are a critically important way of getting our persuasion advertising to the voters."

Unlike TV networks, streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix aren't obliged to comply with the 1934 Communications Act — the law that requires broadcasters to provide political advertisers with equal access to the airwaves.

Broadcast TV is still expected to dominate this fall's cycle with over $4 billion in election ads, according to political ad monitoring firm Kantar CMAG vice president Steve Passwaiter.

But Passwaiter said streaming services have a great potential to reach younger and more segmented audiences.

"This has become the new darling of the political set," Passwaiter said. "And probably by the time this cycle is over there's going to be a billion and a half dollars that finds its way to these ad-supported streaming outlets."

Passwaiter said it won't be too long before streamers end up looking a lot like broadcast and cable channels in terms of both the volume — and the array — of ads all along the political spectrum.

But Mike Shields, founder and partner of the Republican political marketing and strategy company Convergence Media said his firm is waiting to see who gets to place ads with Hulu and how those ads are treated before considering it a win for his clients.

"Conservatives have every right to be skeptical when something like this happens to make sure that it is done fairly and in a balanced way," Shields said.

In its announcement, shared with NPR via email, Disney said, "Hulu will now accept candidate and issue advertisements covering a wide spectrum of policy positions." But the company still "reserves the right to request edits [to meet] industry standards."

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Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.