The CW has struck a deal with Hulu that will place episodes of its current primetime series on the Hulu Plus subscription service the day after they first air.
CW fare including “Gossip Girl” and “The Vampire Diaries” will also make their way to the ad-supported Hulu.com eight days later. All nine current series will arrive on both parts of Hulu later this year at a date to be determined.
The five-year pact comes just two weeks after the CW struck an output deal with Netflix that delivered current series one season after their original airdate.
The new digital deals should help fuel financing for more original programming on CW, which has been criticized for essentially hanging a “gone fishing” sign in primetime in past summer seasons, which in turn hampers promotional efforts for the fall.
Though CW has renewed nearly all of its new scripted series, the network has been struggling this fall, down double digits in the ratings across key demographics.
The Netflix deal was estimated to be worth $1 billion to CW’s joint owners, Time Warner and CBS Corp.
CW president Mark Pedowitz has already signaled his intent to push more original-series launches into the midseason and summer, which could help stabilize the net. “The premise of the whole thing is to increase the marketing and original programming so that we have less repeats on the broadcast network,” Pedowitz said.
Both Hulu and Hulu Plus will make only five episodes available at a time, a gesture sure to please any potential buyers for CW fare in syndication, where minimizing exposure to series is key to protecting their value. But the serialized nature of CW dramas already limits their aftermarket worth, making digital deals all the more important.
CW programming will now have an unusual windowing scheme that will insert a next-day berth on Hulu Plus before returning to the net’s own CWTV.com on the third day. Then an episode moves back to Hulu on the eighth day where, as on the network’s website, it’s freely available. Hulu will sell advertising for the programs when it appears on its own site.
The CW deal brings four out of five broadcast networks to Hulu, which is owned by News Corp., the Walt Disney Co. and NBCUniversal, along with Providence Equity Partners. CBS still does not make its programming available on Hulu, though the participation of the Eye’s parent company raises the prospect that its owners are at least considering the possibility.
But Marci Ryvicker, senior analyst at Wells Fargo, issued a research note Friday playing down the prospect of CBS joining Hulu.
“CBS content is very different and has a much larger backend opportunity than the CW,” she wrote. “We think CBS will continue to monetize catalog product through SVOD.”
The CW deal marks the biggest programming injection to Hulu since its owners aborted their plan to sell the property, with suitors having included Google, Dish Network and Yahoo.
Scoring a five-year deal also sends a well-timed message to the marketplace that Hulu is in it for the long haul given that the length of its licensing deals is considered core to it value.
Andy Forssell, senior VP of content and distribution at Hulu, emphasized the importance of adding young-skewing content that was in demand judging from the site’s own data. “For us, the CW shows are among the most searched on our service,” he said.
For Warner Bros., the Hulu and Netflix deals show that Time Warner is starting to haul in the sort of incremental dollars that CBS Corp. has already touted from its own digital deals. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes will likely bring that up in the company’s quarterly earnings announcement on Nov. 2.
Next-day access being restricted to Hulu Plus represents the increasing emphasis the streaming service is putting on its subscription arm, which collects $8 per month from a subscriber base that recently surpassed the 1 million mark.
Forssell cautioned that the placement of next-day access on Hulu doesn’t mean the company will automatically lean in that direction with every content deal.
The ability of Hulu.com to maintain its huge online audience, which was amassed while the free website had next-day access to primetime programs, was also called into question when Fox announced in August that it was imposing an eight-day delay there as well. Next-day access was reserved for Hulu Plus members, as well as for subscribers to multichannel providers Fox has signed up, including Dish Network, Verizon Fios TV and Mediacom.
There is no authentication component to the CW on Hulu or on the network’s website.