For several years consumers have enjoyed streaming premium content services like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and others. But as more and more television and film content moves online, the owners of the copyrights (typically studios or production companies) have started to see the potential in launching their own competing services--like Ultraviolet--and it threatens to end or hinder licensing rights. So the streaming companies have been forced to do the only natural thing in response: start creating their own content so they won't have to rely on licensing agreements.
Hulu Vs. Netflix In The Battle Of Original Content
Netflix fired the first shot in the Original Content Wars, by outbidding everyone--including HBO--for the rights to House of Cards, a remake of a British hit that will star Kevin Spacey and be produced by David Fincher. But Hulu scored the first direct hit, by being the first to market with an original content series, documentary Day in the Life from filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. As an aside, Hulu has said the series did well and will return for another season, though they won't tell you how many viewers it had (interesting, no?).
Then Netflix grabbed the spotlight again, by releasing the trailer and announcing a February release date for their first original scripted series, Lilyhammer--the show stars Steve Van Zandt (of the Sopranos) as a mobster relocated to the former Olympic setting of Lilyhammer. Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it yet:
Hulu obviously doesn't want Netflix to get all the attention, so they're putting out a new original scripted series in February as well, and wouldn't you know... they have a trailer too:
Whose Original Content Looks Better?
It's always hard to tell from a trailer whether a show or film will be any good, and ultimately we'll have to wait a few more weeks to find out conclusively which one is better. But judging just from the previews, it looks to me like Netflix has higher production values on Lilyhammer than Hulu does with Battleground--name-recognition in the cast alone tells you that, but I'm also talking about visual quality.
And maybe it's just me, but the audio sounds really off and kind of funky on the Battleground trailer, but it's possible that they just hadn't finished post-production when the trailer was put together.
Neither one looks like a must-watch series, and I can't tell if that's on purpose or on accident. I can certainly see Netflix wanting to get their process laid out and perfected for original series before releasing their crown jewel, House of Cards. So maybe it's kind of like a "soft launch" for original content... put some feelers out, get people used to us as a studio, then bring out the big guns. Or maybe they're both just fairly average series, and we'll have to wait a while to pick a winner in this original content war.
The Real Original Content Wars
Savvy spectators might know that this original content war between Netflix and Hulu (and their competitors) is really just the first battle in the true original content wars. As Chris Atkinson and I recently discussed, pretty soon every brand is going to be getting into the original content game, regardless of their prior industry or experience... it's just the direction that advertising is going: less branding and messaging, more engaging original content.
See, Hulu & Netflix don't care if they sell you their show or someone else's... they just want to sell you shows. Heck, they probably wouldn't even care if you wanted to buy PVC pipe from them instead of TV shows. Comcast is just as interested these days in selling me home phone service as they are Internet service... MTV hasn't been about music in ages... the History Channel doesn't seem to ever show actual history programming... the list of companies that have dramatically changed focus just to make more money is almost as long as the list of all companies.
So the new Hulu and Netflix series mean a heck of a lot more to commerce and advertising in general than they do to the entertainment industry. Hulu isn't a streaming service... or a TV show producer... they're a company that wants to sell you subscriptions. And their original content is now fulfilling the same role advertising used to.
Battleground isn't an original web series... it's an advertisement for the Hulu brand. It just happens to also be a web series at the same time.
Netflix and Hulu may prove to be good (or bad) examples of how to create and market original video content, but the outcome of their skirmish won't end the original content wars. If YouTube's prediction that 90% of all web traffic will soon be video holds true, businesses that want to remain relevant won't have a choice about whether or not they start creating original video content.