Hulu’s Smith talks lessons learned in first year of live TV

Hulu's Ben Smith talks Wednesday, May 16, during the Pay TV Show in Denver. (Ben Munson/FierceCable)

DENVER—It’s been roughly one year since Hulu launched its live product. Ben Smith, head of experience at Hulu, used his keynote at the Pay TV Show to discuss the lessons learned in that time.

Smith said that many TV users are in a transition and that fact was a big blind spot for Hulu. He said there are deep habits of walking into the living room, picking up the remote, hitting the guide button and getting a list of channels.

“It’s comfortable. It’s almost automatic,” said Smith. “We didn’t do enough in our experience to help the users in transition.”

Toward that end, Hulu today announced updates to its live TV viewing experience on mobile and web, including the addition of a channel grid.

RELATED: Hulu bets big on mobile viewing with new live TV features, HDMI and Chromecast support

Smith also talked about how Hulu is fully invested in machine learning and data science but acknowledged that viewers are more than the algorithms that Hulu subjects them to. Hulu learned that there are a lot of aspects about TV viewing that are less about behaviors and algorithms but more about what’s happening in the world. He said Hulu also saw that truly great recommendations are often more likely to be things the viewers already watched.

To address that, Hulu has added features that allow users to tell Hulu to stop serving certain recommendations all together, as well as allow users to remove titles from the viewing histories.

While Smith said that live TV matters, he admitted that over half of the viewing in Hulu’s live TV subscriptions is on-demand. He noted that the areas where live matters the most is news, live events and sports. Hulu recently developed enhanced platform experiences around big sports events like NCAA football, the Winter Olympics and March Madness.