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Content, Under Pressure - Broadcasting & Cable

Content, Under Pressure

In digital programming, production and distribution continue to converge—and have never been more important
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At last month's Next TV Summit presented by B&C and Multichannel News, Charlotte Koh, head of original development for Hulu, characterized original programming as vital to her company’s evolution. “In the past, we’ve been recognized as the best of last night’s television,” Koh said. Hulu, which in March tapped Craig Erwich as its new senior VP and head of content, is hoping to shift that perception with a slate of new series—most of which are coming from outside producers, a model that has worked well for one of its biggest competitors, Netflix. Amazon, another rival, has taken a different approach, producing originals in-house through its Amazon Studios arm.

The rise of digital platforms has created even greater demand for original video content, especially with billions of digital ad and subscription dollars flowing. The speed of change makes it impossible to definitively identify a ranked list of the top brands, especially given the major role traditional media companies such as Discovery and Bravo are playing in the digital space. Nevertheless, a B&C survey of production companies and platforms reveals increasing overlap between those who create content and those who distribute it. A sampling:

AMAZON

Focus: In addition to its syndicated SVOD library, Amazon’s Prime Instant Video platform distributes content from outside producers and the company’s own Amazon Studios.

Recent headlines: Amazon continues to order new series, but its streaming ambitions took on a new shape April 2 when the company announced the Fire TV set-top box. It will retail for $99 and stream Prime titles and content from Hulu, Netflix and others.

AOL

Focus: The company produces some of its own lifestyle short-form video content, but mostly aggregates content from outside.

Recent headlines: AOL announced March 24 that it would launch digital video platform AOL On in the U.K. The U.S. version of the platform, a hub for AOL’s video content, launched in 2012.

CRACKLE

Focus: Sony’s first OTT network is available through multiple set-top boxes, smart TVs and Sony’s PlayStation consoles.

Recent headlines: The network announced Jan. 29 that Jerry Seinfeld’s interview series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, had been streamed 25 million times. In the week following the airing of an ad touting a Seinfeld reunion on the show, the series was streamed an additional 3.6 million times.

DEFY MEDIA

Focus: The company—a collection of online brands including Smosh, Break.com and Generate—was formed from the merger last October of Alloy Digital and Break Media.

Recent Headline: Generate founder and former Alloy and WB executive Jordan Levin jumped to Xbox Studios in February.

ENDEMOL BEYOND

Focus: The digital arm of international production heavyweight Endemol produces and distributes original video content across platforms including YouTube, Yahoo, AOL, MSN and Dailymotion.

Recent headline: Endemol Beyond, a $40 million venture, was announced last November. A week later, the company hired former Maker Studios executive Will Keenan as president.

FULLSCREEN

Focus: The YouTube multichannel network has 200 million subscribers.

Recent headline: The company in December hired Ashley Kaplan, formerly VP of content and digital strategy at Magical Elves, as head of content.

HULU

Focus: Best known as the home for recent network television series, Hulu has expanded its original series offerings, primarily through coproductions and first runs of foreign series. It offers a free ad-supported service, which has 30 million viewers, as well as the subscription version, Hulu Plus, with 5 million.

Recent headlines: In January, Hulu announced its largest slate of new programming yet, including The Awesomes, Behind the Mask and Quick Draw. Hulu is heavily promoting the April 9 premiere of new original comedy Deadbeat.

LEGENDARY DIGITAL

Focus: Thomas Tull’s production company, Legendary Entertainment, has been in business since 2000 with divisions in film, television, digital and other media. Hit properties include the revived Batman franchise and 300.

Recent headlines: Announced in February that it had hired Greg Siegel, formerly of Break Media, as VP of development and production. Last month, the company tapped Noah Geenshner, formerly of Closed on Mondays, as VP of scripted development.

MACHINIMA

Focus: A YouTube multichannel network catering to a male audience and rooted in video-game culture, Machinima has more than 321 million subscribers.

Recent headlines: Following a layoff that saw the company cut 42 employees—nearly one-third of its workforce—Machinima announced in March that it had closed an $18 million round of financing led by Warner Bros.

MAKER STUDIOS

Focus: The multichannel network, founded in 2009, distributes original digital video content to 380 million YouTube subscribers.

Recent headlines: Walt Disney Co. announced in March that it had reached an agreement to purchase Maker for $500 million.

NETFLIX

Focus: Primarily known now as an OTT film and television streaming service, Netflix has incorporated original series and documentary films into its offerings, helping the company grow even further beyond its roots as a DVD-by-mail provider.

Recent headlines: The second season of House of Cards, the first digital drama series to be nominated and to win at the primetime Emmys, debuted Feb. 14. In March Netflix ordered three new kids series—King Julien, Puss in Boots and Veggie Tales in the House.

PLAYSTATION

Focus: The Sony gaming console, which supports apps for several OTT networks, including Crackle, has begun developing its own content.

Recent headlines: The company revealed in March that Powers, a Sony Pictures Television supernatural drama based on the comic books by Brian Michael Bendis, will be developed as the first original series specifically for Playstation. The project had previously been developed for FX.

VICE MEDIA

Focus: Launched in the ‘90s as a print magazine geared for the urban hipster, the male-oriented digital brand specializes in premium-production, long-form nonfiction video content. The company has sold programming to traditional media outlets including HBO and MTV.

Recent headline: Vice cofounder and CEO Shane Smith recently told Bloomberg TV that the company, of which 21st Century Fox owns a 5% stake, is considering an initial public offering.

VIMEO

Focus: A premium video distribution platform fully owned by IAC, Vimeo has begun financing its own content.

Recent headline: In March, Vimeo announced a $10 million fund to provide financing and resources to filmmakers who distribute their work exclusively, for a limited window, through the company’s pay-per-view service.

VUGURU

Focus: Founded by Michael Eisner in 2006, the company has licensed original programming to AOL, Hulu, Yahoo and other digital outlets.

Recent headline: In November, Vuguru hired Lauren Corrao as chief creative officer. Corrao had previously been president of original programming at Comedy Central.

WIGS

Focus: One of the first channels to receive funding from YouTube, the female-targeting digital studio last year agreed to a programming and distribution partnership with Fox Broadcasting.

Recent Headline: The studio announced in March that the third season of its most popular series, Blue, starring Julia Stiles, will be available on Hulu and Fox.com—not YouTube.

XBOX STUDIOS

Focus: Microsoft’s original programming initiative is tasked with developing content for its Xbox consoles.

Recent headline: In February, the studio hired Generate founder and former WB Network CEO Jordan Levin to oversee scripted and unscripted development. Levin reports to Nancy Tellem, former president of CBS Network Television Entertainment Group.

YAHOO

Focus: The site launched its first original series in 2011. It relies heavily on content from outside producers, but its sizable traffic has helped launch hits such as Burning Love, now a half-hour series on E!

Recent headlines: The company announced in March that its Yahoo Screen app will be made available via Roku’s set-top boxes. It has also been on a talent spree, setting deals with the likes of Katie Couric and former New York Times tech columnist David Pogue.

At last month's Next TV Summit presented by B&C and Multichannel News, Charlotte Koh, head of original development for Hulu, characterized original programming as vital to her company’s evolution. “In the past, we’ve been recognized as the best of last night’s television,” Koh said. Hulu, which in March tapped Craig Erwich as its new senior VP and head of content, is hoping to shift that perception with a slate of new series—most of which are coming from outside producers, a model that has worked well for one of its biggest competitors, Netflix. Amazon, another rival, has taken a different approach, producing originals in-house through its Amazon Studios arm.

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