Disney is pretty much the quintessential family brand. Part of that is because parents have always known that if it says "Disney," they could count on it to be kid-friendly. That's a huge asset for a company that built the largest media empire on earth by being the place for families.
In fact, one of the reasons my family cut the cord, and signed up with Hulu (which is now entirely owned by Disney), is that it allows you to set up "kid-friendly" profiles. Presumably that means that when kids are watching programming with that profile, they'll only be able to see age-appropriate movies and shows. Netflix allows this as well, though in that case there are no commercials (even better).
Except, with Hulu, it turns out that's not the case at all. "Kid-friendly," doesn't actually mean kid friendly. In fact, just this weekend we decided to let the kids pick out a movie. It's a holiday weekend and movie-nights are one of our favorite activities for our family of six. The kids picked Disney's 2016 remake of Pete's Dragon from the "kids" section.
Everything was fine, until the commercials started. That's when, as a parent of four kids 11 and under, I was pretty surprised to see that Hulu shows ads for Steven King's It, the MA-rated TNT show Animal Kingdom, FX's Mayans M.C., and some alcoholic beverage named Truly during a children's movie.
Question: How is it possible that "kid-friendly" programming includes commercials for rated-R horror movies, alcoholic beverages, and some of the most violent, graphic, Mature Audience-rated shows on television?
You know, a general rule is that when your kids are watching "kid-friendly" programming, a parent probably shouldn't have to mute the TV and tell their kids to shut their eyes until the commercials are over. It would be bad if it were live, or broadcast TV, but when it's "on-demand," there is no reason the commercials can't be closely matched to the content
Here's what this would be like, to borrow an analogy from another Disney property. Imagine you waited in line to ride "Frozen Ever After" at Epcot with your four young children, only to get inside and find advertisements for a strip club. That might make you begin to distrust Mickey, and Co.
This is a really, really big problem, but it gets worse. I reached out to Hulu on Twitter, and the response was basically, "yeah sorry, that's not our fault."
Sorry for any frustration, Jason! Since Pete's Dragon is offered by the network itself (and isn't in our library) the ads that appear are up to their discretion. That being said, we'll be reporting these examples to the proper parties so they can take a closer look!-- Hulu Support (@hulu_support) September 2, 2019
To be clear, it wasn't like this was a one-off random thing. In fact, just to be fair, I went through a variety of children's movies where ads are shown, and found the same issue. This wasn't even the first time I'd asked this question. I previously reached out to Hulu's support team in July over the same problem, and got basically the same response then.
Apologies for the frustration, Jason! Typically, ad ratings should match that of the content you're watching. If you let us know which movie you saw this during, and the ad played, we'd be happy to take a closer look into it for you.-- Hulu Support (@hulu_support) July 5, 2019
I also reached out to Hulu, Disney, TNT and WarnerMedia directly, and not one responded to my request for comment.
Okay, here's the thing--and I'll try to step out of my role as a parent for a moment because this is actually really important. In fact, it's so important that I waited a day before writing this because I wanted to be able to draw out this point once the frustration and anger had subsided. If your brand is family, you are asking people to trust you with what matters most to them, their family. If your brand is family, you're promising that the experiences you create for your customers will be appropriate for all types of families, and that parents can trust you to be on their side.
Clearly, Hulu has a major problem with the way it serves up advertisements on programming it promises will be kid-friendly. Based on the fact that the company is aware of it and hasn't made any changes, this is an even bigger problem, especially for Disney.
Here's why: Your brand isn't based solely on your good intentions. Your brand is based on the experience your customers have with whatever you actually deliver. I don't believe Hulu intends to violate the promise it makes to parents that it will only show "kid-friendly" programming on kids profiles. But that doesn't matter when the company lacks any system to make sure it lives up to the promise.
When you make a promise, and fail to live up to that promise, it's your problem. You don't get to blame one of your partners like Hulu did, even if it really was their fault. Your customer doesn't care. It's your job to have the systems in place to deliver on the promises you make.
And when you don't, the only acceptable response is to own it, and make it right.
Your move, Disney.