Hulu's Original Series May Point To A Shift

On Wednesday, the Web streaming service Hulu will introduce its first original series, called "A Day In The Life." Could this be the beginning of a shift in the way streaming platforms operate? Other sites like YouTube and Netflix are expected to follow suit. If successful, these platforms could emerge with a distinct advantage over traditional cable providers in years to come.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: You might remember Morgan Spurlock from his documentary film "Super Size Me." Well, he has a new show that debuts today, and it's not on a network. It's not on cable. It's on Hulu, the Internet video service that streams thousands of TV reruns. This is Hulu's first original series, and Andrew Wallenstein of Variety magazine tells us this represents a big shift in the video streaming business.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Spurlock's latest work is the series "A Day in the Life," which trains its cameras for a 24-hour period on prominent folk like will.i.am and Richard Branson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERIES, "A DAY IN THE LIFE")

RICHARD BRANSON: You know, if I want to relax and retreat, I can, you know, go to our island and pull up the drawbridge. But when I'm out and about, I expect that I'm on display and they have to do a job, and I'm happy to do that.

WALLENSTEIN: It's the kind of thought-provoking work that could've shown up anywhere from HBO to FX, but it was Hulu that developed and financed it. And the company is not the only video streaming platform making shows. Netflix stunned Hollywood earlier this year by outbidding TV networks to land its first original series, with Kevin Spacey set to star. It's an adaptation of the BBC drama "House of Cards."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "TO PLAY THE KING")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) A new king, a new age of hope and peace and spiritual growth, et cetera.

WALLENSTEIN: Hulu and Netflix won't be alone in this pursuit. YouTube has been in talks with established creators all over Hollywood about spending hundreds of millions of dollars to commission their own shows. And that's worth a lot more than a bunch of cats on skateboards.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEOWING)

WALLENSTEIN: Here's the thing. Streaming services have to make their own shows because the TV networks are becoming more judicious about what to license to them online. The incredible growth of Netflix in particular has made the premium cable channels adjust how they deal with the company. For instance, both Showtime and Starz have revised their deals to keep current seasons of their shows off the service. For HBO, it doesn't matter whether a show is current or not. You think Netflix can get its hands on an old show like "The Sopranos"?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SOPRANOS")

JAMES GANDOLFINI: (as Tony Soprano) I don't know. I guess not.

WALLENSTEIN: Hulu faces the same resistance, which might seem odd, considering it's owned by three of the four broadcasters. But these companies are trying to sell Hulu because it hasn't made them the kind of money they expected. As a result, the service has moved away from the one-day delay they had on prime-time shows. Now, you have to wait a week and a day unless you're a Dish Network subscriber. And more cable and satellite services are expected to delay the availability of shows from other broadcasters. Now, can you imagine Hulu without next-day access to shows like "The Simpsons"?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

DAN CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) D'oh.

WALLENSTEIN: For these companies, making their own shows isn't just about going on an offensive against the TV business. They're playing defense against an expected tide of newcomers who want to steal their market share, like Amazon and Blockbuster. Given that they all end up buying a lot of the same content, having a show to call your own is a nice way to stand out in a sea of sameness. If it sounds like market conditions are essentially forcing Hulu, Netflix and YouTube to gamble on making their own shows, well, that's exactly right. But don't go feeling sorry for them just yet. If shows like "A Day in the Life" or "House of Cards" become hits, these companies may rise from adversity with a competitive advantage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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