Kilar, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, sits on the floor sipping beer from a plastic cup and enjoying the frat-house irreverence. Only when the topic turns to online ad sales does he hop to his feet. He mentions new clients and cites a promising meeting with a major chief marketing officer. While ad revenue is plummeting elsewhere in media, Hulu's is growing, with more than 250 advertisers and an estimated $120 million in revenue in 2009, according to analysts -- from zero just two years ago. "In the early days," Kilar tells the group, "advertisers wouldn't even meet with us."
Just two months into Kilar's tenure, Zucker, Chernin, and the other board members paid a visit to these same offices. They walked across a carpet dotted with video-game icons from the previous tenant, past empty pizza boxes and employees in flip-flops, and into a conference room stocked with snacks from Costco. "You realize it's not your father's media company," a deadpan Zucker recalls. That feeling was reinforced when Kilar unveiled a bombshell: The search engine his team had built would display results for all broadcast video across the Web.
"There was this slight moment of 'huh?' " recalls J.B. Perrette, head of digital distribution at NBC Universal. Why would a site owned by NBC and Fox allow you to search for, say, CSI: Miami -- and then provide links to take you to the CBS site?
Kilar calmly explained that he wanted Hulu to be the online authority on TV video, just as Amazon is the expert site for books. If people are looking for a particular show -- any show -- Hulu should help them find it. As Kilar sees it, shows are the brands users care about, not the networks that air them. There was a "healthy debate," he recalls. It was a debate that he would win, although he's too diplomatic to put it that way.