The future of Hulu

Hulu is busting out original content, like "Battleground," seen here.

It used to be that Hulu.com was a perfectly predictable place where you could go and catch up on episodes of "30 Rock" or "Modern Family" that you may have missed when they aired. Lately, however, the company has been expanding into original programming, like the political drama-comedy "Battleground." Hulu will be announcing other new shows this week at a TV industry event referred to as “upfronts.” It’s where networks show off their new shows to advertisers in hopes of getting a lot of financial backing. This will be the first time Hulu has participated in upfronts.

The company says it’s focusing on delivering a lot of shows without a lot of commercials. “We look at about four minutes of advertising in a half hour show versus eight minutes that is in the common show you'd see in the living room,” says Jean-Paul Colaco, head of advertising at Hulu.

Is that a promise for the future from Hulu or just a goal for the moment? “Right now that's where we're focused on. I'm not going to comment on the future,” he says.

Colaco wouldn't tell me what the new shows were but the way Hulu works lets it be more experimental than an average network. Think of it like Amazon and other TV networks being more like a bricks and mortar bookstore. “We can take risks because we don't have a limitation of shelf space,” he says, “and we're actually able to use our technology, our ability to search and help people find and discover amazing content, to actually find an audience for a specific set of content.”

Hulu will continue to work with traditional TV networks. It has to since it's owned by the parent companies of ABC, Fox, and NBC. Max Dawson, who teaches radio, television & film at Northwestern University, says Hulu is trying to carve out a brand new space and be something no one has ever seen before.

“It's trying to create new identity for itself more along the lines of a cable channel rather than simply a kind of web platform for redistributing network programming,” he says.

But isn't it weird that Hulu can have original shows or shows from its parent company? Isn’t Hulu always competing against itself in some way?

“It's a very strange time right now in the video distribution marketplace,” Dawson says. “Not unlike the time when cable first started making its tentative forays from being simply a redistribution platform into a source of original programming.”

And new projects cost money. Some will come from the two million subscribers paying $8 a month for the premium service Hulu Plus. Hulu hopes advertisers are impressed enough with the new shows this week to cover the rest. “If Hulu is to obtain new programming, original programming, it is going to require revenue sources,” says Dawson, “and the eight dollar a month subscription fee for Hulu plus will only go so far towards covering that especially if it wants to compete with not just Netflix and YouTube, but also with cable channels.”

Also in this program, Gmail was down for 20 minutes yesterday. Horrors! We get some of your Twitter responses of how you dealt with the crisis:

@beergeekgirl  - Worked on developing Hmail

@luisishere - I spoke to people, like in person, face to face. It was weird.

@InfiniteChicken - Gazed motionless and unblinking into the middle distance

@matthewbaldwin - Tried to remember my Hotmail password. It was MatrixFan 44, I'm pretty sure.

@lukedones - Tenderly kissed wife and son goodbye; saluted new Facebook/Instagram overlords 

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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