Abortion rights and gun control have taken the center stage of the Democratic midterm campaigns, but Hulu is refusing to run political ads on those issues. The Disney-owned company’s guidelines on restrictions for political ads has ignited pushback from party leaders and viewers.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Governors Association purchased ads on July 15 highlighting Republicans’ records on abortion and gun safety laws with Hulu, along with Facebook, YouTube, Roku, NBCUniversal, ESPN and a Disney-owned ABC affiliate in Philadelphia. The ads never ran on Hulu, while they did on the other platforms.
“Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country,” the executive directors of the committees, Christie Roberts, Tim Persico and Noam Lee, said in a joint statement. “Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ agenda on issues like abortion – and Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people by blocking voters from learning the truth about the GOP record or denying these issues from even being discussed.”
The backlash against Disney reignites controversy over the company avoiding hot-button political issues. In March, Disney stayed mostly silent initially on the passage of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibiting teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with younger students. The company ultimately responded by pausing political donations in the state — one of the moves that led to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stripping Disney World of its special tax status.
On Tuesday, “#BoycottHulu” was one of the trending topics on Twitter in the U.S.
Disney and Hulu didn’t respond to requests for comment. Disney has said that political and alcohol ads will not be accepted on Disney+ when it launches an ad-supported tier later this year.
Democrats have accused Hulu of censorship in the lead up to the midterm elections. In a letter to Disney chief executive Bob Chapek and Hulu president Joe Earley, Suraj Patel, a Democratic candidate for Congress in New York City, took aim at an “unwritten Hulu policy” that barred ads covering abortion, guns, climate change and the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. capitol for being too “sensitive.” He was told that his ads wouldn’t be allowed run without censoring them.
“I am writing to you today to urge you to reconsider your ban on advertising that mentions the most important messages of the day,” he wrote. “I would like to note that this advertisement was approved by cable providers and network television but was rejected verbally by your representatives without written explanation.”
Broadcast television networks are bound by the Communications Act of 1934, a federal law that requires them to air political ads from both parties and bars censorship in any form. Streamers aren’t covered by the law, making them an increasingly popular medium by politicians to draw the eyes of younger voters. They now attract more ad money from political groups than local cable-TV stations, according to data from advertising-technology firms Cross Screen Media and Advertising Analytics. Some of Hulu’s recent ad decisions have separated it from the majority of streaming platforms, like Roku, Sling and YouTube TV, that haven’t turned away ads from Democrats or Republicans.
Part of the frustration from party officials appears to lie in the absence of clear-cut rules for the ads to air and the discretion to apply existing guidelines. Three days after they purchased the ads, the Democratic groups were told that their ads didn’t run on Hulu because of “content-related” issues, a person familiar with the events told The Hollywood Reporter. Later that week, Hulu emailed that it “received creative approval for the DCCC campaign,” only for the company to follow-up with another account executive at the end of the day saying that the message had been sent in error.
According to Hulu advertising guidelines, political ads are reviewed on a case-by-base basis. Prohibited content includes “Content that takes a position on a controversial issue of public importance.” It bans political ads altogether on its self-service advertising platform.
In 2020, Hulu ran an ad from conservative group FreedomWorks featuring former President Trump saying, “The ‘deep state’ is trying to inject our health system with socialist price controls.”
Roku, YouTube TV, Sling, Tubi, CBS All Access accept political ads with varying levels of oversight. Sling outsources ad decisions to advertising agency D2 media and works with ad monetization company SpotX on vetting ads. Tubi outsources decisions solely on political ads to SpotX and online advertising company Magnite. All of the platforms allow for targeting advertising based on viewer location and behavior. They didn’t respond to requests for comment.