Hulu is launching its first-ever original scripted series with its 13-episode order of Battleground, a political comedy following the campaign trail of a third-place candidate in Wisconsin angling for a seat in the Senate.
The show is kicking off Hulu’s foray into scripted programming, and will be followed by two other original shows: a second season of documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s A Day in the Life series, and Up to Speed, a travel show from Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater.
Battleground will debut on February 14th, Hulu says, and will be available to all users of Hulu’s free service and its paying customers on the premium version. The company also told Bloomberg that it’s planning to raise money to fund further expansion into original shows. According to Andy Forssell, Hulu’s Chief Content Officer, the company has a “very healthy business.”
“When you have a healthy business, capital is not a problem. There are plenty of people who want to help,” he said.
The “healthy business” he’s referring to can be seen in Hulu’s recently released subscriber numbers and sales figures. Last week, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar spoke of how the business grew more than 60% in 2010 to approximately $420 million in revenue and now has over 1.5 million subscribers. 1.1 million of those customers were added over the course of the past year. That’s good news for Hulu. But then again, compare that with Netflix, which was growing at a rate of 1 million subscribers per quarter (or more), prior to the pricing debacle. It’s clear that it’s going to take more than just network TV to give Hulu an edge. Original programming may be just what it needs.
Today’s announcement of Hulu’s first scripted series comes on the heels of Netflix’s preparations to launch its first original series, a “fish out of water” tale from Steven Van Zandt called Lilyhammer. Both shows will debut in February.
This is the start of a growing trend towards original web programming. In addition to Netflix’s Lilyhammer, Tom Hanks is making a cartoon TV series for Yahoo. There’s also House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, which will also appear on Netflix, along with other original shows (it is also resurrecting Arrested Development, much to audience’s delight.).
For content creators, these efforts could lead them to entirely new ways to have their work seen, even if they don’t (yet) reach all of the 115.9 million mainstream TV consumers. Fox, for example, passed on Battleground before it found a home on Hulu. There’s more content out there than there are network time slots. If Netflix, Hulu and others want to move into original programming, it’s there for the taking.