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'Handmaid's Tale' helps propel Hulu past 20 million subscribers

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hulu's streaming service has surpassed 20 million thanks to interest in original programs like "The Handmaid's Tale" and a live TV service.

Hulu, which is owned by four media giants, has added at least 3 million customers since January, when the company said it had reached 17 million subscribers.

Once primarily an outpost for TV reruns, Hulu scored its first original hit last year with an adaptation of "The Handmaid's Tale," Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel set in a dystopian future. The company just released the second season of the show and has renewed it for a third.

Hulu is spending a couple billion dollars a year on programming, a sum comparable to other major TV networks -- though only a fraction of the amount that rival Netflix Inc. shells out. Hulu is still mostly only available in the U.S.

Founded by NBC and Fox as a counterweight to Netflix and YouTube, Hulu has shuffled between a few different strategies before settling on its current path. Its future is muddied by Walt Disney Co.'s planned acquisition of Fox's stake, which would give that company a majority share of Hulu.