After announcing 60 percent revenue growth in 2011, web streaming service Hulu is taking its expansion to the next level in 2012 with a push into original programming. Battleground, the site's first ever original scripted series, will launch Feb. 14. The mockumentary series, described as "The Office meets (a low budget) The West Wing," follows the lives of a Wisconsin Senate candidate and his young staff. (Watch a trailer below.) Hulu's move echoes the strategy of rival streaming site Netflix, which is also introducing its first original series, Lilyhammer, in early 2012. With Hulu on the rise and Netflix's popularity sinking, should Netflix be worried?
Yep. In a tight race, Hulu has the advantage: Producing scripted shows is risky, says Yinka Adegoke at Reuters, as they are more expensive than the documentary series Hulu already produces. But Hulu has an advantage over Netflix and other rivals, because it's offering its original shows on its free web service "rather than just to its paying Hulu Plus subscribers" (Netflix customers must pay to subscribe as well). Hulu's well on its away "to becoming a full-fledged alternative to cable television."
"Hulu challenges cable with first original drama"
Nope. Battleground looks terrible: If Hulu hopes to challenge Netflix's original programming, says Kevin Lincoln at Business Insider, it's going to need better shows. The trailer for Battleground looks "awful": "Cliched, poorly written, and melodramatic." In the escalating war between Netflix and Hulu, give Netflix the upper hand. It has "the only appealing show" in its upcoming original comedy Lilyhammer, "which is led by a The Sopranos veteran and has an intriguing premise."
"Hulu's first scripted show has a trailer, and it looks awful"
They both could succeed: We are entering a new era of original TV, says Erick Schonfeld at Tech Crunch, in which "web TV shows no longer have to be second-class citizens." Not only are there more of them being produced than ever — there's Netflix, Hulu, and now Yahoo entering the market with a cartoon series from Tom Hanks — but websites are committing unprecedented amounts of money to original projects and attracting high-wattage star power. These sites only need one or two "anchor properties" each — think what Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones are to HBO — in order to "get people into the habit of watching on the web."
"We are going to see a lot more original TV on the web in 2012"
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