Hulu Walks Back Restrictions on Hot Button Political Ads

Hulu Walks Back Restrictions on Hot Button Political Ads
Photo: Lost_in_the_Midwest, Shutterstock

The House of Mouse and its squeaky little underling Hulu have caved to Democrats’ pressure, saying they’ll be changing their ad policies so candidates can touch on issues like abortion, climate change, and the Jan. 6 insurrection, you know, just a few things voters might actually care about.

Axios first reported Wednesday that the Disney-owned streaming service Hulu reversed course on its decision to block political issue ads from airing on the platform. This now brings it in line with Disney’s cable channels like ESPN and FX Networks.

Hulu did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. The streaming company confirmed with Axios that its ad guidelines will be changed to allow issue and candidate ads, so long as they adhere to the parent company’s — AKA the great big mouse ears in the sky — ad standards equivalent to Disney’s cable and sports offerings.

At the same time, Hulu told Axios they still reserve the right to request edits to make sure ads are “in alignment with industry standards.” Of course, Disney is incredibly protective of its family-friendly image, as described in recently leaked internal videos. An ad-supported tier for Disney+ will not accept any political ads or alcohol-related ads when it’s released sometime later this year.

The decision comes mere days after Hulu was slammed with reports that it had refused to run issue-based ads for Democrats that centered on topics ranging from abortion to guns. The Washington Post reported Monday that several Democratic-centered campaign groups tried to buy space for ads on Hulu July 15, alongside spots on ABC and ESPN. While the ads on the latter platforms ran, they never appeared on Hulu. In a joint statement, the groups called “Hulu’s censorship… another step down a dangerous path for our country.”

Though unlike Hulu, the Disney-owned ABC news network is legally mandated to accept ads from political candidates on any topic. The Communications Act of 1934 allows the Federal Communications Commission to revoke broadcasting licenses for any station that fails to permit political candidates to purchase “reasonable amounts” of air time. Digital networks are not bound by this law.

Jezebel reported earlier this month that New York-based congressional candidate Suraj Patel was forced by Hulu to cut issues like abortion and guns from his campaign ads, as well as footage of the Jan. 6 insurrection, before the streaming company would approve it. Patel told reporters the ad ran on June 30 but with those central issues replaced with “non-sensitive” issues like “climate change” and with words like “democracy.” Apparently, a Hulu rep told Patel there was an “unwritten Hulu policy” that restricted sensitive ads.

And he’s not the only one. Georgia congressional candidate Carolyn Bourdeaux also said Hulu blocked her from airing an ad that centered on abortion back in May. She pointed out that A Handmaid’s Tale is a Hulu original show.

The WaPo said that after its story ran Monday, Hulu told Patel they would run his original ad. Yet even that still did not stop #BoycottHulu from trending on Twitter Tuesday. For years, Disney has basically owned Hulu with its majority stake in the company. Yet, even still, Hulu has used a separate ad policy than its parent company. When candidates submit their ads through Hulu’s Ad Manager, they are restricted by anything that could contain anything “obscene” or “distasteful,” and it explicitly says it does not accept “issue, electoral, or political ads” in Ad Manager.

Though of course, ads submitted outside Ad Manager consistently reflect political issues on Hulu, as forum posts going back five years ago show. Users reported seeing quite a few ads pushing political agendas. NBC News previously reported that ads attacking then presidential candidate Joe Biden on half of the Trump campaign appeared on Hulu, arguing that mortality rates for covid are lower for those under 65 years of age, a very misleading and unscientific line of thought. If that’s not an issue-based ad, I’m not sure what is.