Abortion rights, gun control, and climate change have taken center stage for Democrats running in this year’s midterm elections. But the popular streaming service Hulu has repeatedly rejected Democratic ads focusing on these central campaign issues over the last few weeks, as first reported by The Washington Post on Monday.
On July 15th, a group of Democratic campaign organizations attempted to purchase a joint ad on abortion and gun control on the Disney-backed Hulu platform along with other digital buys on Facebook, YouTube, and Roku and more traditional placements on broadcast and cable channels. The ad ran on every other platform, but Hulu rejected it. Hulu hasn’t told the groups if it will run the ad, a Democratic party official told The Verge.
In a joint statement on Hulu’s rejection on Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Democratic Governors Association said, “Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country.”
After the ad went live on the accepted platforms, the groups reached out to Hulu asking for clarification. On July 18th, a Hulu representative said that the ad was rejected due to “content related” issues. Hulu reps declined a series of other clarifying calls from the committees last week before a rep sent an email saying that the ad was accepted, according to emails viewed by The Verge. But hours after receiving the message, Hulu said it “was sent in error.”
The Democratic committees still haven’t received a clear answer as to why the ads were rejected. But their ad is just the latest in a growing list of too “sensitive” to air ads from Democrats seeking placement on Hulu in the last few weeks alone.
Hulu did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.
Disney, which owns 66 percent of Hulu, has been subject to intense political pressure from Republicans in recent months. The company, which operates hugely profitable theme parks in Florida, became a GOP target after CEO Bob Chapek condemned the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill outlawed primary school teachers from engaging students in “discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Unlike broadcast television networks, Hulu doesn’t have to provide politicians with equal access to airwaves under the Communications Act of 1934. But its decision to block important Democratic issue ads divides it from other online platforms and streaming services, like Facebook, YouTube, and Roku, which accepted the Democratic group’s ads and other ads like it in the past.
Earlier this month, Suraj Patel — a Democratic congressional candidate in New York — accused Hulu of censorship after a company rep instructed his campaign to remove language related to abortion, climate change, and gun reform before an ad could run on the platform. Hulu has blocked a handful of other pro-abortion rights campaign ads without explaining exactly why they were rejected.
“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 Democratic groups said in their Monday statement.
It’s difficult to say whether Hulu’s overall ad policy puts Democratic candidates at a disadvantage — but for party operatives, the mere possibility is alarming. “It is an absolute scandal that a major streaming service like Hulu is censoring Democrats’ ability to talk about Republican attacks,” Matt McDermott, a Democratic pollster and strategist, said in a Monday tweet. “Hulu is one of the most impactful platforms for advertising to young voters. By blocking ads on issues like climate change and abortion, Hulu is effectively censoring Democrats from engaging a massive swath of voters on the most critical issues facing our country.”