Streaming service Hulu grew subscriber numbers rapidly during the first quarter at the same time as the big four US broadcast networks registered a slump in ratings.

Hulu announced yesterday it had reached 28.8 million paid subscribers, up 16% over the previous quarter, while a further 1.3 million are signed up via promotions like free trials; overall the service has grown its base by 40% over the past year, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Under majority owner Walt Disney, the ambition is to double that figure over the next five years, with international expansion a possibility, Reuters noted.

The figures are in sharp contrast to the experience of the leading broadcast networks. Ad Age reported that Nielsen broadcast C3 ratings were 17% down in the first quarter compared to Q1 2018 and 20% down on Q1 2017; “go back three years and the networks have seen one-quarter of their ad deliveries dry up.”

A 54% plunge for NBC is partly accounted for by it having shown Super Bowl LII (CBS showed it this year) and the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year. Fox, which showed Super Bowl LI and now has Thursday Night Football its primetime programming, has suffered least over the past three years in Ad Age’s assessment, with C3 ratings down just 1%.

ABC, without an NFL rights package – “a particularly unfortunate state of affairs, given that television is now basically just a delivery mechanism for football”, Ad Age observed – has failed to find succour in its entertainment roster, with “nightly numbers dropping from 1.86 million adults 18-49 (or a 1.5 rating) in 2015-16 to 1.28 million (1.0) this season”.

It added that only three general-entertainment programs currently average more than a 2.0 C3 rating (and one of them, The Big Bang Theory, is ending this month) compared to 32 non-sports shows four years ago.

Sourced from Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, Ad Age; additional content by WARC staff