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Hulu Doesn’t Run Political Ads on Key Issues in Democratic Midterm Campaigns

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Disney-backed streaming service Hulu refuses to run political ads on central themes of Democratic midterm campaigns, including abortion and guns, sparking anger among the party’s candidates and leaders.

Like other digital providers, the streaming service popular with younger voters, which has a policy against displaying content deemed controversial, is not bound by the Communications Act of 1934, a law requiring broadcasting television networks to give politicians equal access to the media. provide ether.

On July 15, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Governors Association, along with Hulu, tried to buy joint ads on abortion and guns, along with identical placements on a Disney-affiliated ABC affiliate in Philadelphia and the cable sports channel ESPN. from the company. The Hulu ads never showed, while the others did.

“Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive and another step on a dangerous path for our country,” the executive directors of the three committees, Christie Roberts, Tim Persico and Noam Lee, said in a statement to The Washington Post. Voters have a right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ agenda on issues like abortion — and Hulu is doing the American people a huge disservice by blocking voters from knowing or denying the truth about the GOP record that these issues are even discussed. ”

The party committees join a growing list of Democratic candidates rejected by Hulu over commercials about gun violence, abortion or political violence.

Suraj Patel, a Democratic candidate for Congress in New York City, posted a letter of protest, first reported by Jezebel, to Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Hulu President Joe Earley, complaining that a Hulu representative told his campaign that there was an “unwritten Hulu policy”. who found the topics in one of its ads too “sensitive” for the platform. The ad in question featured Republican successes around abortion, climate change and gun violence, while also showing the violence of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“If I don’t address these topics in my campaign ad, I’m not addressing the key issues facing the United States,” Patel wrote. “Your ban on mobilization messages is having a perverse effect on democracy.”

Patel said in an interview on Sunday that the ad was allowed to run after he edited it, replacing the word “climate change” with “democracy” and replacing the images of violence in the U.S. Capitol with images of former President Donald Trump. He has not received a response from Chapek or Earley, he said.

“These policies have incredible implications for people across the country, both voters and those who run for office,” Patel said. “You have to communicate with younger voters on the media they watch. Cable is not what they are looking at.”

Hulu contacted Patel’s campaign Monday afternoon, after the first release of this story that morning, to tell him that his original ad would be accepted, including the images of violence on January 6.

“I want to thank Hulu for allowing Americans to be aware of the most pressing issues of our time,” Patel said in a statement following the approval. “Sometimes a simple conversation can bring about change.”

A person familiar with Hulu’s policies, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal affairs, said the decision to approve Patel’s ad was made before Monday, although it was not immediately communicated to his campaign. . This person said that the company does not make its advertising guidelines public, but that they prohibit ads that take a position on a controversial topic, whether or not it is a political ad. The ads are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, sometimes recommending adjustments to the advertisers.

In recent months, the company has re-evaluated its policy implementation to give candidates more flexibility to explain their views, the person said.

“We do accept candidate ads that refer to those topics,” said this person about abortion and gun violence. “It has to be in the right context.”

Disney and Hulu have declined a request for comment through a spokesperson.

The blocked ads do not use violent or shocking images. One place lists statistics on the harm of gun violence and criticizes Republican efforts to block more gun regulation. The other warns that Republicans are trying to “take away” access to abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or the lives of those who are pregnant.

Disney faced a separate response from employees earlier this year after company executives refused to make a public statement against a Florida Republican bill banning teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with younger students. Chapek then reversed course, apologized to his employees, criticized the Republican measure and froze campaign contributions in Florida.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) responded by signing a bill intended to strip Disney World of its special tax status near Orlando.

“It’s really problematic that when a company was so synonymous with parents of young children to go against the parental rights law,” DeSantis said.

The tracking company Kantar Media predicts that $7.8 billion will be spent on political ads for the 2022 election season, with about $1.2 billion going to over-the-top and connected TV spending, a category that includes ads delivered through streaming services and set-top boxes such as Roku. The streaming releases are “the new darling of the political set”, according to Kantar.

But streaming services have proven harder to negotiate for political buyers. Disney has told advertisers that political and alcohol ads will not be accepted on Disney Plus, a separate streaming service, when it launches an ad-supported version later this year. Netflix announced this month that it is developing an ad-supported version with Microsoft, though the company has not specified its advertising policies.

Democratic concerns about Hulu’s ad policies have been compounded by the company’s vague and sometimes contradictory communications with ad buyers. Three days after the ad purchase was posted, the three Democratic committees were told through a Hulu vendor that the delay was “content related,” according to a person familiar with the events, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to help the internal process. discuss .

The next day, Democrats scheduled a meeting with Hulu to discuss the matter, but Hulu officials canceled the call just as it was about to begin, suggesting by email that they would reconvene “later in the day.” plans, the person said. Hulu officials did not communicate further that day.

An attorney for the Democratic committees emailed twice and called twice the next day, trying to restart discussions, but got no response, the person said. The next day, on Thursday, Lance Delaney, an account manager at Disney ad sales, emailed to say, “We’ve received creative approval,” only to follow up hours later with a message that said, “This message is false. sent. “

Patel’s campaign received a similar message Thursday from a Hulu representative, asking him to resubmit the original ad. He said the Hulu official suggested that “they had some sort of meeting and the standards were changing.” The next day, Patel said, the campaign was told the original ad still wouldn’t run. Monday he heard it would work.

This isn’t the first time Democrats have been angered by digital providers refusing their ads. During the 2020 campaign cycle, Priorities USA Action and the Color of Change PAC, two independent liberal groups, had rejected ads by Hulu, Google and Verizon featuring clips of police beating protesters during that summer’s protests over police brutality.

“The content policies against violence have clearly been put in place for good reasons, but we are not living in reasonable times,” Jenn Stowe, the deputy executive director of Priorities USA, said in a statement at the time.

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