On-demand video streaming platforms are becoming some of the hottest and most influential in the world. According to Statista, 74 percent of US consumers were using a subscription video service in 2019 (an increase of over 20 percentage points in four years).
TV audiences are rapidly quitting traditional cable and satellite TV in favor of mobile video streaming services, hitting some of the biggest US telecommunications companies – Dish Network, DirecTV, and AT&T – at the very heart. According to Streaming Observer, cable television is losing 14,000 subscribers daily in the US.
Given the growing popularity of mobile video streaming services, we decided to find out how to make an online video streaming app that includes some of the coolest features of the video streaming giant Hulu.
Wonder how to start a video streaming business similar to Hulu? To answer this question, let’s start with an overview of the feature set for a Hulu-like app and then discuss Hulu’s approach to business.
To see the full picture of how a video streaming business works, let’s overview the video streaming market and its key players. There are three types of video streaming applications:
Video streaming apps from traditional TV providers
In response to the declining popularity of satellite and cable TV, communications providers are trying to bundle streaming services for smartphones, smart TVs, laptops, and other internet-connected devices. Sling TV and AT&T TV NOW are probably the best-known live TV streaming services (or cord replacements).
However, other video streaming giants like YouTube and Hulu are joining the ranks of live TV streamers, giving consumers the ability to enjoy a solid buffet of TV channels via YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV.
Sling TV (owned by Dish Network) and DirecTV Now don’t produce any original content but instead provide access to the most popular cable channels with a diverse selection of movies and TV shows for a monthly subscription. The number of channels may vary from plan to plan, though. Sling TV’s Orange plan includes 32 channels, for instance, whereas the Blue plan includes 47 channels.
Comcast and Cox are cable TV providers that offer their own video streaming apps: the Comcast Xfinity Stream mobile app (an extension of the Xfinity TV app), the Spectrum TV App, and the Contour App by Cox Communications. All of these apps let users access their accounts even when they're away from home and, therefore, away from their TVs. However, they only work along with a home-based TV subscription.
On-demand video streaming apps with original content
Unlike cord-cutting services, on-demand streaming services allow users to choose what shows they want to watch. You’ve no doubt heard of Netflix and Hulu.
One of the original selling points of Netflix was that it didn’t have any late fees, which put it ahead of the DVD rental curve. Since 2007, Netflix has also been offering video streaming, which is now its core business.
As of the end of 2019, Netflix had 61 million paying subscribers, according to Statista. While existing shows and movies were what first attracted users to the service, now Netflix is popular for its original series (House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Witcher, Stranger Things).
While Hulu is very similar to Netflix in terms of providing original content (The Handmaid’s Tale, Harlots, Shut Eye), it’s rather more focused on TV than movies. Hulu is an engine for finding programs from popular networks and streaming them on your device right after they’ve aired.
Standalone video streaming apps from independent TV networks
Even though you can easily find CBS, the Disney Channel, and HBO among add-on packs for most live TV streaming services, that hasn’t stopped them from developing their own independent video streaming apps.
HBO currently has two streaming services: HBO NOW, a standalone streaming service that doesn’t require a cable TV package, and HBO GO, which is included with a cable TV bundle that contains HBO.
HBO is planning to launch the new HBO Max app in May 2020. This service will offer not only shows by HBO but all shows and movies by WarnerMedia in addition to an extensive collection of new shows produced exclusively for HBO Max. The service will include the well-known Games of Thrones, Chernobyl, Rick and Morty, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Pretty Little Liars, and many other series.
The on-demand streaming service Disney+ was launched only at the end of 2019, but it has gained 28.6 million users in the first three months. The reason for its great popularity is clear: for only $7 a monthly, users get access not only to well-known Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar films but to shows created exclusively for Disney+ like WandaVision, Mandalorian, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki.
After you’re acquainted with the current situation on the market, let’s discuss how you can create a robust competitor. We’ll focus on creating an on-demand video streaming app like Hulu.
An incredible user experience for both web and mobile contributes to Hulu’s success. Let’s figure out the tools used by Hulu to cater to the needs of their constantly growing audience.
Onboarding is probably the most important part of a video streaming app, since it not only welcomes and guides your users but defines their media experience. So how does Hulu do onboarding?
When you first log in to Hulu, the application guides you through an onboarding experience designed to tell you more about the app’s functionality and adjust the app to your preferences.
After giving a few tips on how to use the application, Hulu welcomes users to go through a number of screens where they can share their TV and movie interests. For example, users can browse genres – Adult Animation, Late Night, Reality, and more – to pick what they’re interested in.
Onboarding will help you find out more about your audience so you can provide personalized recommendations and craft the perfect watching experience.
User accounts are needed to store user data in the cloud so it can be accessed from all possible gadgets and Apple TV.
There are two ways to register with the Hulu application: via email or through a social account (Facebook). If you’re going to provide movie suggestions to your users based on their friends’ recommendations – like Hulu does – then registration via Facebook is a must. Mind you, onboarding can happen before or after registration.
The next logical step after registration is to offer subscription plans. Hulu offers a variety of plans, ranging from as low as $5.99 a month up to $44.99 a month for Hulu with Live TV. However, we’re not going to talk about costs and commitments here. Instead, we’ll explore the technical side of the matter – how Hulu implements payment functionality.
Hulu provides several payment options. According to their official website, users can pay by credit/debit card or via PayPal, Venmo, or Amex Express Checkout. Customers can also use Hulu gift cards, which are available at select retail outlets.
You can use either Braintree or Stripe to let users pay for your service with a card. Both services provide a wide range of client- and server-side SDKs that allow you to accept different payment methods (credit cards, debit cards, special-use cards, prepaid credit cards) for web and mobile apps.
For iOS subscribers, Hulu makes it possible to pay for the service via the App Store. In this case, the billing is handled by Apple (using in-app purchases). Users of Amazon, Disney+, Roku, Spotify, and Sprint can likewise subscribe to Hulu and be billed directly by these companies.
You can go further and implement payments via Apple Pay and Google Pay and even integrate Face ID or fingerprint authentication to speed up the payment process.
Accounts let users manage their personal data, emails, passwords, app notifications, and payment options. One account can contain multiple user profiles to keep track of each person’s favorite shows and display personalized suggestions about what to watch. This is important for families.
Since 2016, Hulu has allowed users to create up to six profiles per account to separate each user’s viewing history and watchlist. Moreover, users can create accounts for kids that block inappropriate content.
Home or video library
Simply put, the Home section in Hulu highlights categories of content with the availability of customization according to each user’s preferences (thanks to a complex recommendation algorithm). It’s a place where users can easily find the content they’ve already watched as well as get recommendations on what they may find interesting. In the case of Hulu, these recommendations are found on the Lineup landing page.
The Home section allows users to find what they’re searching for faster using collections. For example, you can create something similar to Hulu’s Unwatched category in My Stuff, which is a collection of everything a user is waiting to stream.
One more convenient section on Hulu’s Home screen is Keep Watching, where users can find movies and shows they’re in the process of watching and can pick up where they left off. In Hulu, there’s also the My Channels section, which shows content from users’ favorite channels.
If you want to take your users’ media consumption experience to a new level, you can let them customize the Home screen by adding or removing sections. For example, some users may be huge fans of sports shows and movies but at the same time may not want sections for news or kids.
However, Hulu could really work on improving their home screen. Having recognized some flaws in the user interface, Hulu is currently working on design improvements.
Search and exploration
The search section can help users find content. It might also show trending and recent searches. Remember that your search functionality should be intuitive and user-friendly, complete with autocorrect and autocomplete suggestions.
Algolia is a nice tool for implementing search in your TV and movie streaming app (by the way, they have a sample movie search engine on their official site). A video streaming business benefits from the use of the Algolia library by building robust, typo-tolerant, and predictive search that provides an excellent user experience.
You can also opt for Algolia alternatives like Apache Solr. Its major features include powerful full-text search and database integration. This tool has been widely adopted for enterprise search and analytics purposes and boasts an active development community.
Watchlist and My Stuff
The Watchlist in Hulu is the home for everything users want to keep track of. Users can collect things they find interesting (movies, shows, channels, networks) by adding them to their Watchlist.
A similar feature called My Stuff is tailored to track and organize a user's favorites. The main difference between these features is that Watchlist tracks everything a user watches, while My Stuff only tracks content a user adds manually. Users can import their Watchlist to My Stuff if they wish.
The Expiring category contains episodes that are expiring soon so users can know which movie or show they should devote their attention to first.
Video quality, audio tracks, and subtitles
Many of your users won’t have unlimited mobile data plans or constant access to Wi-Fi, which is why you should let them choose between several video qualities. For example, you can provide low, medium, and high-quality streams so users can manage their streaming experience according to network conditions to stay connected to your service anytime and anywhere.
Multilingual audio tracks and subtitles are also important if you want to reach a wide audience. For example, you can let your users choose between several common languages (or any languages spoken by your target audience) for both audio tracks and subtitles. This feature will also be helpful for users who are trying to learn a foreign language with the help of movies and TV shows.
Hulu lets users record shows that are airing live to their personal cloud-based digital video recorder (DVR). Velocix Origin and Cisco Infinite Video Platform are among the solutions that may help you implement a cloud-based DVR service in your video streaming application.
Downloads (offline support)
This feature enables users to download video content so it’s always accessible on their devices. Just like Hulu does, you can enable browsing through downloadable content to save time and effort.
Read also: How to Make Your App Available Offline
You can also let your users send content from their phones to a bigger screen (a TV, for instance). This feature is known as wireless screen mirroring, and it involves sending information from a user’s computer or mobile device to a TV screen or a monitor via Wi-Fi.
The first way to implement this functionality is with the Google Cast SDK (which is designed to create an app that supports Google's Chromecast HDMI dongle). This option enables developers to extend their Android, iOS, or Chrome apps to stream video and audio content to a TV or sound system. In this case, the app becomes a remote control to manage playback.
The second way is to enable screen mirroring using AirPlay (with Media Player APIs), which is basically an alternative to Google Cast that works with Apple TV and supported iOS apps.
You should also give your users the opportunity to rate and type comments on shows and movies as well as to share what they like (or dislike) on social networks. Not only does sharing make your app more social, it also works as a free promotional tool.
In addition to understanding these basics about Hulu’s functionality, we suggest you pay attention to the Hulu tech blog. For example, in this article, Hulu’s Principal Architect shares valuable insights on Hulu’s architecture, databases, libraries, and the languages used to build and manage the app.
Netflix, one of Hulu’s main competitors, is also constantly sharing a ton of ideas and information on its technology stack on its blog.
Who provides Hulu with content?
In addition to creating original series, Hulu partners with a number of networks and media companies to deliver high-quality content to their audience. In addition to NBC, ABC, and Fox, Hulu has partnerships with A&E, Big Ten Network, Bravo, E!, and Fox Sports 2. In June 2019, Hulu made a deal with Lionsgate to get the streaming and TV rights to movies released under the Lionsgate label in 2020 and 2021.
Hulu spends around $2.5 billion on content annually, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But that number is likely to increase since Disney has taken full control over Hulu. The streaming service, which won its first dozen Emmy nominations for its original series The Handmaid’s Tale, has already renewed the show for a fourth season. Hulu plans to purchase the rights to the sequel to produce it as well.
Hulu’s investments in original content are justified, as providing an entry point into the world of on-demand TV is not enough to attract prospective subscribers. These days, it’s important to deliver unique high-quality pre-produced video content that users can’t find elsewhere. In other words, original content is what drives the demand for video streaming services.
Hulu's attempt to attract more users with Live TV
Original content, however, is not the only way Hulu is attempting to attract users. In 2017, the company also launched a live TV service that has the ambition to surpass live TV streaming industry giants like Sling TV, Vue, YouTube TV, and DirecTV Now.
Hulu offers live-stream service from more than 60 broadcast and cable channels, including ABC, CBS, and Fox, as well as a number of channels owned by Hulu’s partners 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company, and others.
To implement its online TV broadcasting system for its mobile and web live broadcasting apps, Hulu has partnered with vendors that provide HLS feeds of network streams. The data transfer represents lots of tiny audio/video files. Ongoing playback of these files produces a real-time video stream. Processing all media files as soon as each of them is received enables Hulu to broadcast video to users with minimal delay.
According to Variety, Hulu Live TV hit 2.7 million subscribers in the third quarter of 2019.
How Hulu earns money
Hulu is built around getting revenue from monthly subscriptions and showing on-screen advertisements. It’s known that Hulu splits its ad revenue with content providers and distribution partners. According to Wikipedia, the service retains from 30 to 50 percent of advertising revenue gained from the shows it distributes.
At the moment, Hulu is playing a significant role in pressing giants like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime Video. With more than 28 million subscribers, Hulu became the fastest-growing subscription video service in the US by attracting 7.5 million new users in 2018.
Hulu is going to dive more into original programming. This intention is backed by Disney’s aspiration to turn Hulu into an adult complement to Disney+, making Hulu a subscription streaming service tailored to family viewing.
Hulu is now among the prominent online video market players who are trying to advance the on-the-go streaming revolution. Who knows? You may have every chance to become the next Hulu in your region if you opt for both: on-demand webcasting and live streaming app developments. At Yalantis, we have large experience in building video streaming solutions. Our software development company will help you implement your app idea by providing native app development services.