The world of content is at a crossroads, stuck between the old cable model and on-demand Web TV. Unfortunately, we're going to be stuck here for quite a while, and introducing original series on Netflix and Hulu is not going to drive the industry forward.
Netflix and Hulu have each started dipping their virtual toes in the original series puddle, or whatever image works for you. Hulu, in fact, just announced plans for four more original series, which will bring its total to seven.
Trailer for Battleground, an original series on Hulu:
In many ways, this is an innovative approach to serving content online. In many ways, it was smart of Netflix not just to test out original content, but also to revive Arrested Development, which got its cult following from good old television. But one thing is clear: Original series exclusive to individual online channels will not be the thing to push us beyond this content crossroads, nor to bring in the revenue Netflix and Hulu need to thrive. So I question whether investing in creating content is, then, a waste of time and resources.
Do original content series ever work? Of course. HBO and Showtime, for example, have megahits exclusive to their own channels. But online content destinations and premium cable channels are totally different animals. Even if original content is the future for Netflix and Hulu, it's not the reality now.
Right now, people are going to channels like Netflix and Hulu for instant access to specific content. So while creating new series is all well and good, to actually serve their consumers' wants, these companies have to focus on playing nice with content owners to acquire more licensing deals and break down more barriers between consumers and the movies and shows they want to watch with minimal hassle.
Further, by investing in new content, Netflix and Hulu are only creating a marketing challenge for themselves. Outside of those of us reading tech blogs, the only people receiving word about these new series are those already using Netflix and Hulu. Marketing to the users they already have isn't going to lift subscriber or revenue numbers. Hulu Plus has just 2 million subscribers, and according to comScore, Hulu earned $420 million in revenue in 2011. That's not enough to sustain a video hosting company, and adding seven new, exclusive series won't help.
Above all, perhaps, by creating original series exclusive to their own channels, Netflix and Hulu are just perpetuating one of the main problems holding Web TV back from catching on: Consumers don't want to fragment their viewing experience across multiple services. Consumers, for the most part, are not going to pay for cable, Netflix, and Hulu. Until we reach the inevitable era of seamless viewing that doesn't tie users to one site or technology or another, consumers are going to devote their attention and money to the service that provides the most content they want. Creating original series that most people will never have heard of is not going to change that.
I think better accessibility to quality content is definitely more of an issue than creating new content. There's plenty of stuff out there and I agree with you slfisher that it's annoying sometimes when there's only X number of episodes available or you log on to watch to see that it just expired. That's more frustrating than anything else.
@slfisher: That's exactly my point. Users, for the most part, aren't lacking content. So Netflix and Hulu aren't responding to a problem. And there are problems to respond to, like the ones you've just pointed out. Users don't want to check the sites and see they can't access the shows they were watching, and they're tired of these services not having certain material. Creating new, original series isn't going to satisfy people.
God knows I have more crap in my Netflix queue than I'd ever have time to watch. What I need (aside from more time to watch tv) is better access to the stuff I want to watch without having to go track it down, find out only one season is available, find out that it disappeared at the end of a month, etc.
Considering how much trouble networks have making stuff that's compelling to watch, I'm not sanguine that Netflix or Hulu will be any good at it.
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