Larry King’s ‘Now’ to stream on Hulu

Internet vid giant pacts with Carlos Slim Helu's Ora TV venture

Hulu will be the exclusive home of Larry King’s new talkshow.

The streaming service has struck a multiyear deal with Ora TV, a new digital network that hired the longtime CNN personality in March with financial backing from Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim Helu. Launching today, “Larry King Now” will revive the celebrity-interview format that made King famous with an opening week of guests including Seth MacFarlane, Meghan McCain and Matthew McConaughey.

Each 30-minute episode of “Now,” which will be freely available and supported by advertising, can be streamed on Hulu and its subscription offshoot, Hulu Plus, as early as 3 p.m. ET. King will tape four episodes each week for distribution Monday through Thursday. Archived episodes will also be freely available.

Unlike his days at CNN, which “Larry King Live” helped put on the map, “Now” will not air live, though that could change eventually. But he will reunite with many of the producers he worked with at “Live,” including exec producer Wendy Walker, for a program that will be based in Los Angeles.

Ora TV CEO Jon Housman pledged that “Now” will have more of a “latenight edge” than “Live.”

“One of the things we looke at was how to update and refresh the program in a way for targeting a different audience,” said Housman, who previously served as president of digital journalism at News Corp. “The Hulu audience is not exactly the same audience as cable TV. You’ll see a lot of elements familiar to Larry but also fun segments and even conversation that might be different in a more traditional show.”

The Hulu deal gives a dose of legitimacy to an enterprise that raised eyebrows for uniting Slim, reportedly the world’s richest man, and the 78-year-old King, who seems an unusual choice for launching a network on digital platforms. But even though Hulu, which skews to the 18-34 audience, might not seem an intuitive match with King, Housman said King has always appealed to a broad demographic and isn’t new to the digital world given his ample following on Twitter, now nearing 2.2 million.

King’s Hulu deal marks what could be a watershed week for a trend that could transform the entertainment world: digital-only original programming boasting a caliber of talent with the potential to challenge traditional showbiz for eyeballs. Also today, Tom Hanks is launching an animated series on Yahoo, “Electric City,” for which he’ll supply lead voice and exec produce. Two days later, Jerry Seinfeld will host an unscripted series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” that will run on Crackle, a digital network owned by Sony Pictures Television.

“When Larry King wants to do something as nontraditional as VOD online in the first window, that’s the kind of thing we want to make happen,” said Andy Forssell, senior VP of content at Hulu. “He’s so iconic and good at what he does.”

For Hulu, “Now” represents a continued diversification of programming options beyond its core asset: next-day access to primetime programming from the broadcast networks controlled by Hulu partners News Corp., Disney and Comcast. Hulu has been aggressively stocking up over the past year on original programs of its own creation and licensing first or second windows for domestic or overseas programming. With Hulu’s valuation tied closely to license deals for broadcast primetime programming, broader offerings can help reposition it as more than a catch-up service.

But in contrast to its focus on mostly scripted programming with deep library value, “Now” offers a more topical edge that could help make Hulu a daily destination for viewers. The streaming service already has a roster of daily TV attractions but in a second window including “The Charlie Rose Show” and latenight programming from ABC, NBC and Comedy Central.

By most measures, Hulu is second only to YouTube in terms of online-video reach. While 10th in the May ranking of unique visitors by Comscore with 25.7 million, it is second in the number of streams served and number of minutes per viewer. In one crucial regard — volume of ads — Hulu is ahead of even YouTube.

The “Now” bow marks the launch of Ora TV, which has been quiet since the venture was formally unveiled in March. Housman wouldn’t divulge any kind of timetable or programming volume to come from Ora TV but disclosed that upcoming content would be a mix of unscripted talkshows and comedy.

With Hulu onboard, Ora TV can achieve a footprint for its programming it otherwise might find difficult to achieve on its own as an unknown brand. It’s a relationship not unlike the one Hulu shares with its broadcast partners, which provide programming on both their own branded sites and on Hulu in simultaneous windows.

Ora is betting that there’s a viable end run to be made around the traditional multichannel world of cable, satellite and telco providers by getting a VOD programming block on the growing range of connected devices, from smart TVs to tablets, that don’t lock consumers into the usual array of linear TV networks.

Ora TV will launch a promotional campaign for “Now” but with no offline components so far. Hulu also plans to promote the series across its own platform and distribution partners.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hulu will pay an unspecified license fee and portion of advertising revenues to Ora, with Hulu handling ad sales for all Ora shows that stream on the service. Each episode would be available on Hulu and Ora.tv simultaneously, but like other Hulu distribution partners such as AOL, Ora TV would host the episode in a Hulu player. Hulu is not linking back to Ora TV.

Ora TV would differentiate the viewing experience on its own site from the one on Hulu by offering additional content like behind-the-scenes extras and integrations that would offer social interactivity such as a Twitter for viewing of relevant tweets in real time during an airing.

With Hulu’s rights to “Now” restricted to the U.S., Ora TV could conceivably sell overseas rights and a secondary window as well.

Not every program Ora TV produces will go to Hulu, which obtained similar rights to other Ora TV programs yet to be revealed. But those programs could be steered to other distributors or Ora TV can choose to go it alone as well.

For now, Ora TV is not creating a standalone app for its network or “Now.”