NewFronts 2015: Hulu Snags 'Walking Dead'

Hulu has secured an exclusive output deal with AMC Networks that will include all episodes of an upcoming series being spun off from TV’s top-rated hit, “The Walking Dead,” the company revealed at its NewFront presentation Wednesday.

The pact is the second major move Hulu made on the licensing front that unveiled this week. Leaking shortly before the Newfront event was news that Hulu has exclusively landed the entire run of “Seinfeld” from Sony Pictures Television in a mega-deal that could cost as much as $180 million. The episodes premiere in June.

“FX and AMC are the most important contributors to the new golden age of television,” said Hulu programming chief Craig Erwich, citing a previously announced deal with FX Networks. “Our competitors have some of their libraries, but we will have all of their future.”

Hulu did not specify any other series besides the spinoff — titled “Fear the Walking Dead”– that will be covered by the output deal, which likely extends at least in part to programming that has yet to appear on AMC. The pact also extends to other cable channels under the AMC Networks umbrella, including IFC, BBC America, Sundance TV, WE tv and IFC Films.

A similar deal worked wonders in 2011 for Netflix and AMC, which steered hits “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead” to the streaming service. The good fortune went both ways: While Netflix execs cited the the AMC content as a popular draw, the streaming service also got credit for boosting the ratings for “Breaking Bad” in its final season by increasing visibility to the drama series mid-run.

“Fear the Walking Dead” could be a slam dunk for Hulu and AMC if history is any indication. Another recent spinoff effort, “Better Call Saul,” which sprung from “Breaking Bad,” premiered earlier this year to terrific ratings on AMC. Netflix has the rights to “Saul.”

After watching rival subscription VOD services Netflix and Amazon Plus experience tremendous growth, Hulu has been on a tear in recent months on the licensing front. The streaming service has secured Fox’s “Empire” — the No. 1 new show on TV this season — and CBS’ long-running stalwart “CSI,” as well as exclusive output deals for select future shows from FX Networks and Turner Broadcasting’s TNT, TBS, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network. Hulu also renewed and expanded a key Viacom deal, and did select deals with Bravo, Discover and E!

In addition, Erwich shined the spotlight on Hulu’s strong lineup developed in adult animation, which includes “South Park,” “Family Guy,” “Archer,” and “The Simpsons” in addition to Adult Swim.

This year is the one when “Hulu will break out,” said Mike Hopkins, CEO of Hulu. “We are investing significantly in content and technology.”

Hopkins revealed that Hulu Plus now reaches 9 million subscribers, a 50% jump over last year. By the end of 2014, total streams increased 77%, and in the first quarter of 2015, 700+ million hours were already streamed by Hulu. More than 60% no longer watch Hulu on computer, opting instead for tablet, smartphone or smart TV.

By way of comparison, Netflix revealed earlier this month that 10 billion hours were streamed in its first quarter. The company has nearly 60 million subscribers worldwide, whereas Hulu is only a domestic service.

Hulu showcased upcoming original series efforts with recognizable names attached including J.J. Abrams, James Franco and Stephen King for the drama series “11/22/63”; Jason Reitman and Zander Lehmann for the family comedy “Casual”; Jason Katims, exec producing and serving as showrunner for family drama “The Way”; and Amy Poehler for “Difficult People,” starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner.

Another key Hulu deal announced this week: Cablevision Systems will begin selling the premium Hulu Plus subscription service to its customers (price to be determined). At last year’s NewFronts, Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins pledged to get the brand a presence on MSO set-top boxes.

Hopkins also indicated that the “Plus” brand will be going away at some point this year to help unify marketing efforts for the subscription and ad-supported services.

Hulu will deploy programmatic ad buying over the next few years, which will blend the streaming service’s data with that of a marketer in order to enhance targeting capabilities.

The event closed with an appearance by Jerry Seinfeld, who was making his second NewFront cameo of the month after stopping by the presentation for Sony’s Crackle to promote his original series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

The comedian mused about how odd it was for him that a series that was barely sustaining decent ratings for half its run could be doing so well so many years later. He also speculated as to how it would be for “Seinfeld” to exist in the current TV era.

“I think all the media and social and digital capability makes the world a more annoying place,” he observed, adding that even his show itself would feel different circa 2015. “What reason would Kramer ever have to come in? You lose all those entrances, he could just text me. The whole show goes in the toilet right there.”

But it was Eichner of Hulu original “Difficult People” who may have gotten off the best “Seinfeld”-themed line from the stage, citing the expense of the series to the streaming service.

“They spent $130 million on ‘Seinfeld,’ but once, on set, they wouldn’t let me get an ‘everything bagel,'” he complained.

The Hulu event also saw appearances from Seth Meyers, Katims, Reitman, Poehler and “Saturday Night Live” cast member Taran Killam, who emceed.

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