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Hulu Producing Originals Like Midrange Cable Net

Eva Longoria’s animated comedy skein ‘Mother Up!’ due on site this fall

Hulu interim CEO Andy Forssell said the Internet TV venture is now producing original series — such as Eva Longoria’s upcoming animated laffer “Mother Up!” — with “midrange cable budgets.”

“The good thing that has happened in the last year or so is that the economics have changed,” Forssell said at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York on Wednesday. “We can get CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) as good as anything out there, except for primetime TV.”

Hulu’s originals are aimed at a sweet spot of 1 million to 3 million viewers, akin to popular cable skeins, according to Forssell. That’s a big enough aud for a show to not be “some crazy obscure thing” but not so large the content must try to reach mainstream viewers.

“Once you start to chase 15 million viewers you need a broader show,” he said. “I think you’ll see that cable model thrive.”

Forssell was named acting CEO, after departure of topper Jason Kilar, last month. Previously Forssell had been Hulu’s senior VP of content, having overseen content partnerships since 2007.

Two of Hulu’s owners, Walt Disney Co. and News Corp., are considering future options for Hulu, including a potential sale or spinoff. The third stakeholder, Comcast’s NBCUniversal, relinquished management rights in Hulu under government approval of NBCU deal. Search for permanent CEO is under way.

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Forssell said the Hulu founding team always assumed the company would become independent from its broadcast parents. “Hulu was a joint venture from the start owned by competitors,” he said. The JV “may end now, it may end two years from now… We haven’t suffered.”

Hulu hasn’t shifted strategy with the CEO change, Forssell said. “The subscriber growth (for Hulu Plus) has accelerated, not decelerated,” he said. “People are voting with their clicks.”

Network TV is still the core of what Hulu does, according to Forssell. Company is funding more originals and also pursues a “treasure hunt” to acquire overseas shows that haven’t made their way to U.S. TV. Example is “Misfits” from U.K.

“The good news is you don’t have to program to one audience,” Forssell said. “We’re just looking for things that are good. It’s such a privilege to be able to do that, to not worry about how this fits in (to a TV schedule).”

Longoria appeared onstage with Hulu’s temp topper to tout her show and, more broadly, opportunities of digital distribution. “We’re not constrained by your normal laws of television. We can be a little more creative with our time, our content,” she said.

In the 13-episode “Mother Up!”, a half-hour comedy due to debut in the fall on Hulu, Longoria voices Rudy, an erstwhile power exec who loses her job and must learn full-time mothering duties. With edgy tone, it’s pitched as “Family Guy” for women.

“You could never do this in live-action,” Longoria said. “In animated series, you can really push the envelope and make fun of motherhood.”

She added, “There’s a lot of drinking. Not even in the show, just me in the sound booth.”

Hulu digital originals will find their way to traditional TV, as well, Forssell said. It has already cut a distribution pact for “Mother Up!” with Canadian broadcast net City.

“We want it to do well. We will sell it anywhere it makes sense to sell it,” he said. “We expect it to be a pretty big opportunity” on the backend, and such TV distribution deals mean Hulu can spend more on shows than it could a couple of years ago.

Pointing to Longoria’s “Mother Up!”, Forssell said Hulu will program more content for women. He also called out Prospect Park’s April 29 premiere of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” on its website. Production firm acquired rights from ABC after net canceled the soaps  in 2011 and has been shooting new seasons in studio space in Stamford, Conn.

“We get emails from women saying, ‘We want more.’ There’s a little bit of untapped demand because early on what was done in digital was male-skewed… You’re going to see a lot more (shows) delivered for women.”

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