Fox exec Mike Hopkins officially named Hulu CEO

Mike Hopkins, the Fox executive considered the lead candidate for the position of Hulu CEO, was officially appointed to it Thursday. Acting CEO Andy Forssell will leave the company.

Hopkins is the president of distribution for Fox Networks Group and has been on Hulu’s board since 2011. Fox parent company News Corp (s NWS) owns about a third of Hulu; Disney (s DIS) owns another third; and Comcast owns the rest but can’t directly influence the company thanks to conditions for its merger with NBC Universal (s GE).

“After an extensive search, Mike was simply the best candidate for the job,” Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC TV, said in a statement. “He has a strong understanding of programming, digital distribution and consumer behavior, and a great vision for Hulu’s next chapter.”

Hulu’s CEO search has been going on since the beginning of the year, when Jason Kilar left the company. But even before that, Disney and News Corp had battled each other over the future of the streaming TV site, which offers both free and premium versions. As my colleague Janko Roettgers reported last year, News Corp wants to force consumers to authenticate their pay TV subscriptions before using the free version of the site; Fox shows are only available to non-Hulu Plus users after an eight-day delay. Disney, meanwhile, apparently doesn’t think Hulu users to have to prove they’re paying cable customers.

In his new role, Hopkins will be grappling with those issues and helping to determine the future of Hulu — whether it’s essentially a TV Everywhere service or whether it can exist as a free alternative to pay TV.

According to the most recently released statistics, Hulu had more than four million Hulu Plus subscribers (paying $7.99 per month) in the first quarter of 2013 — double the number of paying subscribers from the same time in 2012. The free service, meanwhile, gets about 30 million monthly unique visitors. Hulu also said it streamed more than 1 billion videos in both the first and second quarters of this year.

In a letter to Hulu employees also posted on Hulu’s blog, Hopkins wrote:

“The fact is, through all the recent uncertainty not only have you kept this business together, but you’ve continued to deliver on every key performance metric. In fact, you are delivering one of the strongest years Hulu has ever seen: We expect revenues to be close to a billion dollars this year, and Hulu Plus subscribers continue to climb.”