For the first time in half a century, television has a new model. From the ashes of appointment TV viewing, streaming has risen as a means to most likely reach coveted millennials, as well as other generations. Whether the device is an OTT (over-the-top) TV screen, laptop or mobile phone, original content—from more sources than ever—is king.
At the top of the heap is Netflix, which accounts for over 50% of the OTT market in the U.S., according to ABI Research, and has captured a 40% share of the U.K.’s streaming video. Following Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have made inroads, and others are entering the arena.
The Internet is arguably the most powerful distribution platform for content, and many creatives have tried their hands at web series. But when it comes to TV-like content, the Internet’s very ubiquity is a hurdle to web producers who fight an uphill battle to gain traction and build audiences, much less critical acclaim.
Then came Netflix and then Hulu to change the equation. Netflix threw the gauntlet down with original content that got audiences and attention: House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black. Hulu, a 2007 joint venture of NBC Universal, Fox and Disney/ABC, launched original content in 2012 with Battleground, and has followed that up with a list of over a dozen programs. Hulu is now doubling-down on more original content for the new year.
"2014 will be a huge leap forward for Hulu in original programming," says Charlotte Koh, head of development, Hulu Originals. "We will be offering more of the latest and greatest TV shows exclusively to our five million Plus subscribers and 30 million Hulu.com users." Hulu is planning a deluge of new content in 2014, either bringing back or introducing more than a dozen shows, including its second original production, The Awesomes (an animated series produced by Seth Meyers, Michael Shoemaker and Lorne Michaels), Quick Draw, Deadbeat, East Los High, The Hotwives of Orlando, Moone Boy and others.
Entities like Netflix and Hulu are well positioned to become new studios. Unlike the many independently produced web series, they have substantial budgets. In fact, Netflix outbid AMC and HBO to buy Media Rights Capital’s House of Cards for a whopping $100 million. That has given Netflix the bragging rights to what the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos calls, "the first series created for the on-demand generation."
Similar to TV, the new original programs are coproduction or licensing deals, some of them fairly complex. Netflix original series Lilyhammer, for example, a comedic drama starring Steven Van Zandt, was developed by Rubicon TV AS and coproduced by Netflix for NRK/Netflix in association with Red Arrow International. The Weinstein Company is producing Netflix’s upcoming nine-episode series on the adventures of Marco Polo. Hulu’s Deadbeat, which premieres April 2014, is a 10-episode coproduction with Lionsgate Television; Moone Boy, which also debuts in April 2014, was created for British broadcaster Sky.