Hulu has struck a deal with Sony Pictures Television to bring all three seasons of “Community” to its subscription service.
Pact will make Hulu Plus a home for next-day access to current episodes from the third season effective immediately, as well as exclusive home to the complete library of past seasons of the series. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The deal is a surprise development for the struggling NBC comedy, which recently had its place on the primetime schedule dropped for the midseason.
The five most recently aired episodes of “Community” have already been available on the free Hulu site prior to the deal along with most other primetime NBC series. The sitcom has always been popular on the service, where comedies like “Family Guy” have long been the biggest audience driver.
The “Community” sale represents the continuing growth of subscription VOD as a whole new arena in the syndication marketplace, where competitors including Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime are ready to spend for exclusive rights as a means of differentiating businesses largely awash in commoditized content.
This isn’t Hulu Plus’ first digital syndication deal. The service paid Debmar-Mercury for exclusive rights to the entire run of the Fox series “Hell’s Kitchen” in June.
A notable difference with this deal is that while “Kitchen” had limited syndication value as an unscripted production, “Community” is in the scripted half-hour mold that can fetch big bucks from local stations or cable networks in the traditional aftermarket, where Sony still has freedom to sell the series.
However, Hulu’s exclusivity is limited to having the entire catalog of past “Community” episodes online. That doesn’t preclude, for example, another syndication buyer for getting partial online access to that library along with on-air rights.
The ratings struggles “Community” has experienced since its inception would likely make its conventional syndication sale a challenge. An infusion of dollars now may help Sony shoulder the cost of the show.
Hulu could end up a promotional platform for the series, where viewers who missed out on earlier episodes could catch up on what they missed and be incentivized to take in new episodes on NBC.
Netflix has landed its share of digital syndication exclusives including AMC series “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead.” Hulu has also looked overseas for exclusive TV rights, snapping up British series in June including “Misfits,” “Whites” and “The Booth at the End.”