Hulu is planning a major push into original content. The video hub—long a destination for TV and movie content on the Web—is looking to expand beyond its present audience, and perhaps protect itself against a possible partner defection down the road.
In addition, Adweek has learned that the site is close to unveiling a major integration with Facebook, aimed at encouraging more people to share what they are watching on Hulu with their friends.
The site, a joint venture among NBC Universal, News Corp. and Disney, has been quietly building out two separate content divisions. One is focused on branded entertainment; the other is aimed at developing original entertainment series, with a focus on niche comedy and documentaries. Several digital marketing agencies are developing original Hulu projects, including Great Works America.
Hulu’s most popular content has always been network shows like Fox’s Family Guy and NBC’s Saturday Night Live and The Office. However, the site claims more than 260 content partners, including many Web-only producers. What’s different of late is that high-profile content creators have begun producing content either specifically for Hulu or are establishing exclusive first-distribution windows with the joint venture.
Last week, Lionsgate debuted the animated comedy Trailer Trash on Hulu. This month Kiefer Sutherland, in conjunction with Digital Broadcasting Group, will premiere the Hulu-exclusive The Confession (he created and stars in the action series).
So does all this development activity mean Hulu is reinventing itself for the day when one of its top network partners (say, perhaps, Comcast’s NBC) pulls its content?
Curt Marvis, president of digital media for Lionsgate, said he doubts it but theorized that Hulu could be replicating the cable model: build an audience with repeats, then launch originals. “It’s a not an uncommon iteration,” he said. “Look at HBO, Showtime, TNT.”
Yet a big reason Lionsgate was drawn to Hulu, he noted, was its premium network TV halo. “We get to co-mingle with some of the most well-produced shows . . . and we know their CPMs are really quite impressive,” said Marvis.
Indeed, Hulu offers Web shows an attractive position: quality by association as well as creative freedom. Max Benator, vp, digital media at Hudsun Media, which produced the irreverent, edgy Trailer Trash, said the program benefits from sitting alongside shows with a similar sensibility, like Family Guy. “And you don’t have to kowtow to a development executive,” he said.
It was last summer when Hulu opened the eyes of the buying community and probably its own executives when the original dance series The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers scored big with viewers, warranting a second season. Donnie Williams, vp, director of digital strategy, Horizon Media, said that show’s success might have convinced Hulu it can strive for a different audience than its network TV fan core.
It also needs more eyeballs. For all Hulu’s buzz, its audience slipped from about 30 million unique users last October, per comScore, to 25 million in January.
Williams also theorized that Hulu might be looking to distinguish Hulu.com from the subscription Hulu Plus with more originals. “You could start to see that transition,” he said.