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Hulu’s On First?

Popular Web Site May Be Utilized by Campaigns

It’s hard to imagine a place with millions of eyeballs and no political advertising.

Last cycle, the on-demand video Web site Hulu.com was only in its infancy, but with a growing audience, it could be difficult to ignore in future elections. This year, there has been a trickle of online video advertising on other news Web sites, and Hulu could be next.

“It’s another good way to get people who are spending more and more of their time on the Internet,” said Democratic media consultant Julian Mulvey, who is working with Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca in the special Massachusetts Senate primary on Dec. 8.

Last week, the Pagliuca campaign began running 15-second pre-roll ads (video ads running before desired content) on CNN.com across the Bay State.

The National Rifle Association ran 15-second pre-roll ads on FoxNews.com in selected markets in this year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia.

“More people are watching TV with a laptop on their lap,” said Republican media consultant Brad Todd, whose firm OnMessage Inc. produced the NRA spots. “You’d like to be in both places and catch them in both directions.”

In the future, media consultants may be wrestling with potential voters who are watching television on their computer with the regular TV set off. Hulu is one place the voters are likely to go.

Launched in March 2007 as a joint venture with heavyweight media partners including NBC Universal, News Corp., which owns Fox, and Disney-ABC, Hulu has grown to the 30th most-visited Web site in the United States, according to Alexa, a Web information company. Hulu has more than 5.5 million page views per day, CubeStat, which follows Web traffic, has found.

On Hulu, people can view episodes or clips from hundreds of television shows (including “The Daily Show,” “The Office” and “The Simpsons”), and movies for free because of commercials placed before and throughout the programming.

Thus far, Hulu has been a refuge from the deluge of candidate ads. There have been no political ads on the site, according to a representative of the company, unless you count the 1988 Willie Horton ad and a few dozen other historic ads in the site’s archives.

Just as they do with television advertising, campaigns can target geographically and they can attempt to target demographically by choosing specific programs or Web sites.

But there are some unique advertising options on Hulu. Campaigns could utilize users’ demographic information, if they’ve registered with the site, and feedback on their ads in order to fine-tune future buys. Also, instead of a traditional 15- or 30-second ad, a campaign could sponsor an entire show and pay for the rights to blanket a particular episode with all video and banner advertising.

Jean-Paul Colaco, Hulu’s senior vice president of advertising, told Fast Company magazine in its November profile of the company that blanketing doubles recall rates compared to traditional broadcast advertising. It also allows Hulu to charge more for its ads, potentially affecting campaign budgets.

Unlike Pagliuca or other personally wealthy candidates, most campaigns are dealing with finite resources. Running pre-roll ads on the Internet are left to campaigns with “Cadillac budgets,” in the words of one Democratic consultant, and that tactic is often scrapped at the first sign of fundraising difficulty.

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