Earlier this week, the New York Times chronicled Hulu’s trajectory from an upstart streaming video service into something more in the vein of a traditional TV network with its own original programming, much like its corporate masters. Of course, that change has been in the works since January. But as Hulu and Netflix face increasing difficulty in convincing TV and cable stations to hand-over programming in a timely manner, they’ve put more of an emphasis on creating its own content to fill that gap.
As the Times noted, when Hulu first launched it had a galvanizing effect on the media industry, accelerating the trend toward getting networks and studios to stream shows online. Hulu’s owners, including NBC, Fox, and Disney, were always worried that online advertising might not make up for the millions they earned from traditional cable and satellite deals. But after NBC’s Jeff Zucker and other Hulu champions moved on, more recently they’ve been striking streaming deals to make their shows available to subscribers via tablets and smartphones instead.
That explains why Hulu, which now has 2 million subscribers and boasted $420 million in revenue last year, headed to the “upfronts” this week, the annual event where networks and cable channels try to convince advertisers to ensconce their new programming in sweet, sweet ad dollars. There CEO Jason Kilar announced four new shows, including projects involving SNL’s Seth Meyers (thumbs up) and “Entourage-r” Adrian Grenier (thumbs down).
That’s in addition to the three shows Hulu announced in January: “Battleground,” a simulated documentary style show in the vein of “The Office” that follows the fictional campaign trail in Wisconsin and “A Day in the Life,” a Morgan Spurlock show looking at the “ordinary lives of extraordinary people,” and “Up to Speed,” a show from Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater following around “flaneur” and historian Timothy “Speed” Levitch, which has yet to air.
Aside from the “A Day in the Life” episode about Das Racist–did we mention youthy-ness is part of its appeal??–nothing in the first batch has interested us except “Battleground.” “A Day in the Life” isn’t enough of a step forward from more interesting offerings from Spurlock (like his FX show “30 Days.”) Half an hour about Will.i.am is roughly thirty minutes more than we care to pay attention to him.
But you should go watch “Battleground.” (Don’t listen to that tech blog, listen to this one!) The show was picked up when Fox, which greenlit the script, passed on airing it. It has an Aaron Sorkin-y speedtalking vibe, if Sorkin cared less about righteousness and more about making jokes and moral gray areas. Plus, there is a love quadrangle–innovative! Of course, “Battleground” hasn’t motivated us to pay for Hulu Plus, even though the free trial was a fine supplement to our online viewing, but we’re more than happy to watch the ads and probably tool around on the site and rate commercials so Hulu can sell our ad tastes to the highest bidder.
Hopefully one of these new offerings will be able to do the same. As years of watching prime time sitcoms will teach you, original isn’t necessarily better.
- We Got Next (2012): Four unlikely friends butt heads on the pick-up basketball court and on the sidelines of everyday life. Starring: Kenya Barris (THE GAME, ARE WE THERE YET?, AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL), Hale Rothstein (THE GAME, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS), Danny Leiner (THE OFFICE, MODERN FAMILY, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, FREAKS AND GEEKS, HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR?
- The Awesomes (2013): An unassuming superhero and his cohorts battle diabolical villains, the ever-present paparazzi, and a less-than-ideal reputation as second-class crime fighters. Starring: Seth Meyers (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE), Michael Shoemaker (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON) and animation studio Bento Box (BOB’S BURGERS, ALLEN GREGORY).
- Don’t Quit Your Daydream: A cast of famous musicians travel across America in search of could-have-been musical artists to collaborate on a new song giving them a second-chance at stardom. Based on an award-winning documentary by Adrian Grenier and John Loar.Starring: Adrian Grenier; Produced by Virgin
- Flow: When Ed Dante, a hard-working kid from the wrong side of the tracks is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he begins an epic quest to deliver true justice. To achieve his goal, he must discover the mysteries of an ancient art, uncover hidden worlds and become a hero to a generation. Starring: Michael “Dooma” Wendschuh (show creator, co-founder and president of sekretagent studios: ASSASSIN’S CREED II (2009), ARMY OF TWO (2008), ASSASSIN’S CREED (2007); David Belle (Founder of Parkour); Produced by Agility Studios (producers of The LXD) and the Shine Group (WHO KNEW? IT’S EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS, APPETITE FOR LIFE)