An outpouring of original programming online
esperate Housewives” alum Eva Longoria’s new project won’t bring her back to ABC or to any other traditional U.S. television network. The actress will produce and lend her voice to “Mother Up!,” a 13-episode adult animated comedy available in the United States this fall only on the online video site Hulu.
Longoria, Kevin Spacey, John Goodman and other top Hollywood actors are being wooed by a growing number of Silicon Valley companies rushing to get a foothold in consumers’ living rooms with exclusive shows that feature big names and hefty budgets.
As video-streaming technology makes watching videos on laptops and mobile devices as easy as flicking on a TV set, Amazon.com, Google’s YouTube, Yahoo and Microsoft are setting up shop in Hollywood to produce or license their own series.
Their models are pay TV chan-
Streaming-video ventures are looking to eat pay TV’s lunch
nels such as HBO and Showtime that built their subscriber rolls by creating such shows as HBO’s “Sopranos” and Showtime’s “Homeland” that a TV viewer couldn’t get anywhere else.
“Content creators think they’ve hit the lottery,” said Bernard Gershon, head of digital consultancy Gershon Media and a former Walt Disney executive. “Those companies are throwing a lot of dollars for content they can use to create a following.”
With 33 million global subscribers to its streaming service, Netflix, based in Los Gatos, Calif., can afford to plunk down what analysts estimate was up to $100 million for the rights to “House of Cards,” a slickly produced political drama starring two-time Oscar winner Spacey and produced by “The Social Network” film director David Fincher.
Upcoming only-on-Netflix series include a revival of one-time Fox comedy “Arrested Development,” starring Will Arnett, and murder mystery “Hemlock Grove,” directed by horror movie producer Eli Roth.
Recently, the company announced the December release of its first original children’s series, a show based on DreamWorks Animation’s coming summer movie, “Turbo,” about a fast-moving snail.
The companies have different business models.
Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft have subscription services. YouTube sells advertising. Intel Corp and Apple may introduce cablelike services that offer channels online.
But they all sense an opening as consumers increasingly chafe at their mounting cable and satellite TV bills. A small, but increasing, number are starting to “cut the cord,” or drop their service, analysts say.
“We may be sowing the seeds of our own destruction,” Charlie Ergen, chairman of satellite operator Dish Network, said at the recent AllThingsD “Dive into Media” conference. “A lot of people can live with Netflix and be perfectly happy.”
Netflix has won fans in Hollywood by giving writers and directors a “high level of autonomy as well as an increasingly global distribution platform,” Morgan Stanley analyst Scott Devitt said in a note to clients.
“There is plenty of room for multiple producers and licensors of original content,” Devitt said.
Amazon’s Prime subscription, which combines a video streaming service with free shipping for products it sells online, stepped up its Hollywood dealmaking in the past month with pacts to be the exclusive online home for popular PBS drama “Downton Abbey” and the upcoming CBS show “Under the Dome,” a series based on a Stephen King novel.
Seattle-based Amazon, seen by some analysts as Netflix’s biggest threat, said last month that it plans to air 11 original pilot episodes before deciding which to produce as ongoing series.
One of the pilots, “Alpha House,” follows four senators who live together in a rented house. “Roseanne” and “Argo” actor John Goodman will star, according to a person close to the situation.
Overall, Amazon Studios has 48 movie and TV shows in development, an Amazon spokeswoman said.
Hulu, owned by media giants Disney, News Corp and Comcast’s NBCUniversal, is beefing up its original and exclusive content for its free, ad-supported service and its monthly subscription plan. Hulu has distributed than two dozen exclusive or original shows, including the Morgan Spurlock documentary series “A Day in the Life.”
Upcoming Hulu programs include Longoria’s “Mother Up!,” about a former music executive navigating life as a suburban mom.
Microsoft, which offers services such as Netflix on its Xbox videogame console, intends to produce its own content this year for its 40 million subscribers, said Nancy Tellem, a former CBS entertainment president who joined Microsoft last year to run its fledging Hollywood production studio.
“We’re not as constrained as other content creators,” Tellem said at the AllThingsD conference. “We can produce something that’s 10 minutes or an hour.”
The Xbox’s benefit, Tellem said, is its interactivity. To generate added revenue, the service can sell tickets to concerts by stars of its comedies or copies of the clothes worn by stars on red carpet events.
ON NETFLIX: Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey in the political drama "House of Cards." one of Netflix’s exclusive online series.
ON SHOWTIME: “Homeland,” with Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, is one of the shows that served as a model for online series.