Hulu CEO Jason Kilar will leave the company in the first quarter of the 2013 fiscal year, he announced in a blog post on Friday. Kilar has run the company since June 2007, the founding chief executive of a venture that pioneered airing new television online.
He did not announce his future plans, but Kilar's departure has been the subject of on and off rumors for the past few years. His name has come up as a possible candidate for a litany of prominent tech jobs, most recently the Yahoo CEO job last year.
Chief Technology Officer Rich Tom will leave as well, and Kilar said he is working with the board to assure a smooth transition.
"I've been so fortunate to play a role in this amazing, ongoing journey. My decision to depart has been one of the toughest I've ever made," Kilar wrote. "Though the words will fall short of the intended mark, please know how much this team means to me and how very thankful I am to be able to innovate and build alongside you each day."
A former Amazon executive, Kilar built Hulu based on the first-run programming of its owners -- NBC Universal (now Comcast) and Fox. Viewers could watch new episodes of "The Office" and "The Simpsons" online with less advertising than on traditional television. Disney then bought a 27 percent stake in 2009, bringing shows from ABC with it.
Viewers flocked as Hulu helped transform the web into a legitimate place for professional movies and TV shows -- and not just the user-generated cat videos on YouTube.
"Hulu's swift rise minted Kilar as a superstar," Nicole Laporte wrote in a recent Fast Company profile. "His all-American looks and aw-shucks charm only cemented his status as a mogul on the make."
Hulu then sought to diversify it offerings and business model. Kilar oversaw the launch of Hulu Plus in 2010, a subscription service that offers a broader selection of TV and film titles. The company has alsoe invested in original programming from the likes of Morgan Spurlock and Kevin Smith.
"Jason has been an integral part of the Hulu story, transforming it from an interesting idea into an innovative business model that continues to evolve," Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement." We are proud of his achievements, we appreciate what he's built, and we share his confidence in his team's ability to drive Hulu forward from here."
However, running Hulu has grown more complicated as film and TV studios grapple with the economics of migrating their programming online. Disney, Fox and NBCUniversal have often battled at board meetings over the company's future -- its programming, its business model and its importance to their own bottom lines. Hulu does not yet turn a profit
When Comcast bought a majority stake in NBC Universal, the entertainment giant had to withdraw from its role in the company's business. Providence Equity Partners, which once owned 10 percent, sold its stake in October for $200 million. Kilar and other executives reportedly sold shares as well.
At the end of 2012, Hulu released assorted financial results, including the Hulu Plus subscriber base, 3 million, and revenue, $695 million. That figure mars a 74 percent increase over the year before, but costs are also on the rise. Studios have increased the prices for licensing their content, placing added pressure on services like Hulu and Netflix.
Hulu faces the added dilemma of being owned by those same companies, which tend to have divergent perspectives on what to do with their video.
Kilar has had to argue for access to content some of his greatest benefactors did not want to give him. This dynamic is one reason Kilar's name has often been bandied about for other positions, especially after staunch defender Peter Chernin left News Corp. in 2009.
"Jason and his team have done a great job building Hulu into one of the leading online video services available today and it's incredibly well positioned for the road ahead," News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said in a statement. "We are grateful for Jason's leadership and wish him the best on his next venture."
Like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu is a data-driven company, hoping to use information on its users habits to better inform its programming choices. Kilar's background in both technology and entertainment makes him an appealing executive for a wide range of jobs.
Variety reported in August it had uncovered an internal memo that included the following bullet point: "Outline transition plan for new CEO. Discuss potential candidates and process."
Time to implement the plan.