With the launches of Disney’s and Apple’s streaming services in 2019 and the anticipated launch of AT&T’s HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, and venture-backed Quibi in 2020, the streaming wars are heating up. More and more competitors are trying to take a bite out of Netflix’s pie, including early competitor Hulu. (Hulu was founded in 2007 and is currently majority-owned by Disney.)

Julie DeTraglia, a BRITE ’20 speaker, is on the front lines of the streaming wars. A veteran of the TV industry who previously spent over a decade at NBCUniversal, DeTraglia now heads up research at Hulu – a combination of consumer insights, ad sales, and user experience research teams. A love of storytelling, film, and TV initially drew DeTraglia to the network television business, then to NBCUniversal, and finally to Hulu. “It didn’t take long for me to understand that Hulu is the perfect place for me to have landed,” DeTraglia has said. “I love TV, and we’re trying to reinvent TV and make it a better experience.”

One of the keys to Hulu’s success in making TV a better experience will be how well it serves ads. Currently, Hulu offers both ad-supported and subscription-supported (ad-free) tiers of service. (In 2019, the majority of Hulu’s 25 million subscribers were on an ad-supported plan.) In considering the way it serves ads, Hulu needs to maintain a delicate balance between the competing priorities of users, ad partners, as well as Hulu’s own bottom line, all while creating value for all sides.

This is where Hulu was able to innovate. Based on research by DeTraglia’s team, it was found that an optimal way to reach viewers was with a still, non-video ad that appeared as a sort of “translucent banner” over the screen when they paused the service (for example, when getting up to go to the bathroom). The unobtrusive nature of such ads was preferred by viewers, and also allowed brands to get their message across in a quick and simple way.

With “pause ads” being relatively new (and quickly being adopted by other streaming platforms), it remains to be seen what impact the trend will have on Hulu’s business, user behavior, and the streaming industry at large. Catch Julie DeTreglia live at Columbia Business School’s BRITE ’20 Conference (March 26-27, 2020 in New York City) as she speaks about strategies for how Hulu can stay innovative and differentiated in what is arguably one of the most competitive industries today – streaming media.