• Streaming service gains 3 million customers in past year
  • Documentaries, concerts added as Hulu chases Netflix

Hulu LLC said it will surpass 12 million subscribers this month, a 33 percent increase in the past year, and unveiled plans to accelerate that growth with programs including a Beatles documentary from director Ron Howard.

Howard’s "Eight Days a Week" will be the first film to debut under a new documentary arm at Hulu, the company said in a statement Wednesday. The streaming service, owned by a trio of large media companies, also said it’s partnering with Live Nation Entertainment Inc. to show concerts via its virtual-reality application.

Hulu is pushing to new types of shows and funding more original programming in a bid to catch up with larger rival Netflix Inc. By adding 3 million customers last year, Hulu grew faster than other paid online video services, like HBO Now, but slower than Netflix. Documentaries have long been a staple for Netflix, which added more than 5 million U.S. customers over the past year.

Once a repository for re-runs of shows made by its owners, 21st Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, Hulu has stepped up its investment in content of its own. The service acquired its first original movie earlier this year, and just released two high-profile drama series, "11/22/63" and "The Path."

Beatles, Concerts

“Eight Days a Week” will chronicle the Beatles on tour during their rise to stardom, featuring rare and exclusive footage. The film will debut in theaters and on Hulu this fall.

The partnership with Live Nation will focus on content for Hulu’s virtual-reality app that’s available for the Samsung Gear VR headset. It lets viewers hang out backstage with artists before the show, experience what it’s like to walk onto the stage as the crowd roars, and watch concerts.

At a presentation for advertisers in New York Wednesday, Hulu will announce it has ordered a new season of "The Mindy Project," a comedy series starring Mindy Kaling, and a new election special featuring Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. 

Live Channels

"Over the past year, we’ve propelled Hulu by adding an extraordinary array of original series, hit broadcast and cable shows and blockbuster movies to our content portfolio," Hulu Chief Executive Officer Mike Hopkins said in a statement. “In 2016, we’re going even bigger and bolder." 

In 2017, Hulu may take the service into a new business entirely by offering a package of live TV channels delivered over the Internet, people familiar with the matter have said. Owners of all four U.S. broadcast networks -- Fox, Comcast, Disney and CBS Corp. -- have all talked to Hulu about supplying their channels, the people said.

“We’re not a partner in Hulu, nor do we want to be,” CBS CEO Les Moonves said on a conference call Tuesday when asked about joining the Hulu effort. “If they offer us the right pricing for our subs, we will absolutely consider it.”

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