Hulu CEO: $750M means you start getting more scripts

The acting chief of the online-television site says one effect of getting a cash infusion means more pitches for original content -- but Hulu's ambitions there are relatively muted.

Hulu CEO Andy Forssell on a stage
Acting Chief Executive Andy Forssell discusses Hulu at the IAB MIXX conference and expo in New York. Joan E. Solsman/CNET

NEW YORK -- Andy Forssell, the acting chief executive of Hulu and its senior vice president of content, didn't say much about the $750 million that his online-television site received from its owners this year, but it's clearly been the talk of content developers.

Hulu is getting more scripts for consideration for original series, Forssell said, even as he sketched out a fairly limited future for originals on the online-television site.

"We're absolutely seeing pitches on, not everything," but most things, he said at the IAB MIXX conference here Monday. "People know us, and they know the things we've gone after. Even if they think it might be more money than we're willing to spend, they know we've been recapitalized."

Ad-supported Hulu and subscription service Hulu Plus received a cash infusion of $750 million earlier this year from its owners 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal, and Walt Disney after they aborted their efforts at selling Hulu -- again. The parents had attempted a sale in 2011 as well, only to keep Hulu in the fold.

However, Forssell sketched out a fairly narrow focus for original programming at Hulu, much less so than competitor Netflix. Hulu content falls into three main chunks, he said: last night's TV from broadcast networks, a back catalog of library and international content, and originals, with the latter comprising only about 5 percent of Hulu viewing.

Forssell, who estimated Hulu has up to 90 million viewers cycle through the site every few quarters, predicted that originals' percentage of viewing will rise to about 10 percent to 15 percent. "Netflix has positioned it as a lot more of what they do," he said.

Netflix, the biggest online subscription video service, has been at the forefront of an original programming push from streaming-video services, including Hulu and Amazon's Prime Instant Video services as well.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said he hopes that the company's original political thriller "House of Cards" will turn into "a Harry Potter-esque global massive phenomena ." Netflix keeps a tight lid on how much its originals are viewed, but a recent Nielsen study found that 45 percent of Netflix streaming subscribers say the types of shows they watch when they stream are original programming .

Forssell also indicated that Hulu gravitates to a different type of content than Netflix.

"Our question for originals was, 'How can we differentiate and give people reasons to come?' but also find things that probably aren't going to get made," he said. "When you're talking about spending a couple million bucks on a show from the '70s, it makes sense to start taking bets on those folks" developing new content.

He added that a rivalry with the likes of Netflix and Amazon over content and subscribers isn't keeping him up at night anyway.

"It's competition but far less head-to-head as one may think," he said.

 

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