Hulu’s plan to become a dominant force in the online TV universe took a small step forward when it added 17 seasons of South Park to its lineup this weekend. Access to the acclaimed Comedy Central program will move to the network’s pay service, Hulu Plus, in mid-September.
Hulu will make all 17 seasons available for free until South Park’s 18th season debut. After that, Hulu Plus subscribers will have access to the entire South Park library. New episodes will be available next day on Hulu and Hulu Plus. Comedy Central currently offers full access to the South Park back catalog on the show's namesake website, South Park Studios. After the show's Hulu Plus launch, Comedy Central will offer a selection of free episodes, powered by Hulu.
South Park represents a key building block in Hulu’s strategy by targeting the all-important male viewer between 18 and 34 while strengthening its growing alchemy of original programs, current shows and aftermarket (aka syndicated) fare. Despite a stellar 2013, which saw the company rake in more than $1 billion in revenue and grow its Hulu Plus service to more than 5 million subscribers, the network is still shaking off the effects of a tumultuous period which included putting itself up for sale without a satisfactory resolution. Playing second fiddle to Netflix (with its more than 40 million subs) will force Hulu to go far beyond its current programming vision to seek whitespace in the burgeoning multiplatform video streaming universe.
With YouTube, Amazon Fire, Yahoo, and broadcast/cable/sports networks on the hunt for young, digital viewers, finding whitespace powerful enough to create differentiation is a challenge bound to become a LeBron-like free-agent bidding war. Options include original live programming (as opposed to simulstreaming of broadcast content), news, talk (which Netflix has targeted with its recent signing of Chelsea Handler), and sports. Coming up with a few Emmy Award-nominated and winning shows a la House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black wouldn’t hurt either.
Sports, seen as a holy grail category, offers a triple-barreled opportunity to lure viewers across all viewing platforms, attract high-profile advertisers/sponsors and create a powerful social presence. While a bit out of reach for mere mortal networks, the 2014 World Cup final was a social media record-breaker as Facebook reported that 88 million people (including 10.5 million in the U.S., 10 million in Brazil, over 7 million in Argentina, and 5 million in Germany) had more than 280 million social interactions related to the game. The Germany-Argentina match broke the record for the highest level of Facebook conversation for any single sporting event. The previous largest event was the 2013 Super Bowl, which scored 245 million interactions. While final TV ratings have yet to be released, the numbers are expected to be World Cup records. That said, finding available sports content whose rights don’t approach the GNP will require some creative thinking.
While sorting out its future trajectory as a major over-the-top force, adding programming that appeals to diverse audiences is a smart play for Hulu. Shows such as South Park, The Bridge (FX), and British imports like Moone Boy will attract new viewers with varied tastes and strengthen Hulu’s position as a diverse video outlet.
H/T Hollywood Reporter | Photo by MoonRockProductions on deviantART (CC BY-SA 3.0)