Inside the private dining space at the exclusive Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills, with celebrity actors and producers on hand, a celebration was underway.
"We've had quite a year at Hulu," Craig Erwich, head of content for the streaming service, said to the crowd as they snacked on hamachi ceviche and pizza with house-cured smoked salmon. "I think people are starting to notice all of the efforts we've made, and we are very grateful."
Those weren't empty words.
For years, the joint venture between major TV network owners 21st Century Fox, Walt Disney Co., and Comcast-owned NBCUniversal was viewed largely as the underdog of the streaming world and was best known for showing major network programs the day after they aired on TV. Unlike rivals Netflix and Amazon, the Santa Monica, Calif., company didn't invest heavily in marquee shows that could draw viewers.
Now Hulu is trying to become more of a player in an increasingly competitive digital television business. The online TV network boosted its investment in original programming and this year pumped an estimated $800 million into buying or making original shows and landing high-powered licensing pacts with TV studios. Hulu recently announced a major deal with Sony TV for the entire Seinfeld library - paying close to $1 million per episode.
Hulu also signed licensing and output deals with AMC, Discovery, Turner Broadcasting, and FX Networks. Additionally, Hulu nabbed streaming rights to big shows such as Empire and CSI and recently signed a deal with U.S. cable premium movie network Epix.
Reflecting its elevated status in the television industry, Hulu in December secured its first Golden Globe nomination for the dark comedy Casual, which boasts filmmaker Jason Reitman as an executive producer.
"They really put their foot on the gas this year," Nomura Securities media analyst Anthony DiClemente said. "It's been a year of accelerated investment in content. . . . They've shown they can be very aggressive in the space."
The major media companies that own Hulu also view the service as a counter to the power of Netflix. Time Warner Inc., owner of the Warner Bros. movie and TV studio, TNT, TBS, HBO and the Cartoon Network, has been in early talks with Hulu to buy a stake in the service.
Analysts estimate Hulu is expected to generate $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion in revenue this year - up from $1 billion in 2013, when the company last disclosed its revenue. Last year, Hulu executives said the service had nearly nine million subscribers, up 50 percent from 2014. The company has not yet disclosed figures for 2015, but some analysts project that Hulu's subscriber base would more than double, to 19 million by 2017.