Hulu, Netflix ScheduleOriginals to Reflect Usage

Strategies highlight the two sites’ differences
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Within eight days of each other, Netflix and Hulu will premiere their ! rst original scripted series in an effort to brand their services as destinations for premium programming, but each will do so with very different scheduling strategies.

Today (Feb. 6), Netflix will drop all eight episodes of Lilyhammer, about a New York gangster in Norway starring The Sopranos’ Steven Van Zandt. Hulu meanwhile debuts its own Battleground, a workplace comedy about a Wisconsin senate campaign, on Feb. 14, but it has chosen to roll out one new episode a week in a nod to traditional TV scheduling.

The differing strategies highlight how users engage with each service—using Netflix to catch up on past seasons of a series while using Hulu, which makes only the five most recent episodes of a series available to non-subscribers, to stay up-to-date on current TV.

“What they appear to be doing is taking into account the way the service is used and taking advantage of the way that the consumer perceives the service,” says Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming at Katz Television Group.

Netflix’s bulk strategy is based on creating user engagement by giving subscribers the choice to not wait a week for the next episode, and it will likely use the same rollout for its other upcoming series, House of Cards, and the new season of Arrested Development.

“If people want to watch our series every week they can, and if they want to watch it all over a weekend they can,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, said at NATPE Jan. 24.

Andy Forssell, senior VP of content for Hulu, says site execs had a lot of internal debate about how to schedule Battleground, but after consulting viewer feedback decided that a weekly rollout would satisfy fans of that traditional model and those who wanted to binge (as long as they found the series later).

The scheduling also underscores how each video service will measure the success of its originals. Netflix, which went through a rough patch of subscriber losses after its price hike last summer, is looking to add value and, hopefully, grow the subscriber base.

“Once they establish their main subscriber base, it really becomes the same game as [premium] cable has, which is to eliminate as much churn as possible,” Carroll says. “You also have the ancillary, which is the critical acclaim, which then raises the profile.”

Hulu, whose Battleground will be available on its free service, won’t use viewership as its primary short-term measure, instead looking at metrics like view-through rates, discussion boards, Facebook, Twitter and critical reception to gauge its impact on the brand. Its weekly model is a big part of helping build buzz around the series by creating anticipation.

“It’s a measure of enthusiasm,” Forssell says. “Volume is a small piece, but only a small piece.”

Both launches will no doubt be watched closely by those at traditional TV networks as more platforms (YouTube’s channels are another) aggressively get into the premium content game and increase the competition for viewers and creative talent, especially for subscriber-based cable networks.

“What it really means is that there’s another competitor out there,” Carroll says.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito

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