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Hulu Gang Decides to Put On a Show

Hulu Gang Decides to Put On a Show

Hulu may be starting small, with a six-episode Morgan Spurlock documentary series, but it's clear the company has some big aspirations: to compete with TV networks by offering its own original programming. "That is how [Internet] channels will stand out from the crowd," said TargetCast SVP Gary Carr. "That is how the cable networks made their mark a generation ago."

By Erika Morphy E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
08/02/11 3:03 PM PT

Hulu is launching its first long-form original program this summer, a documentary series called "A Day in the Life."

Six half-hour episodes, directed by filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, will feature such people as jet-setting entrepreneur Richard Branson, rapper and songwriter, comedian Russell Peters and musician Girl Talk.

The series starts on Aug. 17 and will run on succeeding Wednesdays.

The announcement comes at an interesting time for Hulu. The company has put itself on the block for sale -- an uncertain time for any new endeavor to launch because so much could change with new ownership.

At the same time, Netflix, a competitor -- albeit with a different business model -- is still trying to grapple with customer outrage and defections over its new pricing plan -- making this an ideal time to ratchet up the competitive heat.

Hulu spokesperson Meredith Kendall declined the E-Commerce Times' request to comment for this story.

An Industry Shift

Even without these distractions -- a possible sale, rebellious customer base -- the online video space is clearly moving toward original content. Examples of this abound in the short form.

Just this week, Yahoo en Espanol launched an original sports feature called "La Locura." It consists of three-minute segments featuring funny moments from sports in the past week. Earlier this year, Hulu developed its own original content -- a five-minute entertainment clip called "The Morning After," which recaps TV shows broadcast the previous day.

Netflix has acquired the rights to the "House of Cards," a dramatic series starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher, and reportedly is considering a second original program as well.

Perhaps the most ambitious example is provided by Google, which earlier this year announced it would be investing $100 million in YouTube to build out original content in various channels.

The industry is clearly moving in this direction, Gary Carr, SVP and executive director of national broadcast at TargetCast, told the E-Commerce Times. "That is how these channels will stand out from the crowd -- that is how the cable networks made their mark a generation ago."

How Successful?

Whether these investments will pay off, though, is unclear. For starters, the concept of relaxing with an Internet screen is a nonstarter for a lot of people, observed Debra J. Caruso, president of DJC Communications.

"I don't think most people are ready to watch a lot of TV on their computer screens, and not enough people have Internet TV," she told the E-Commerce Times. " It's not a technical issue -- it's just a matter of comfort. Most of us have laptops or desktops actually sitting on desks. If I want to actually enjoy a TV program, I'm going to do that from my couch."

It's important to remember that just because you build it doesn't necessarily mean the viewers will come, said TargetCast's Carr.

"Original doesn't necessarily translate into a lot of revenues," he pointed out. "This is all new territory, and figuring out how to make the numbers work is part of that."

Much depends on the quality of the show, advertisers' appetite, and marketing of the series.

Also, this particular documentary series doesn't strike Carr, a media buyer, as content "that will set the world on fire."

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