NBCUniversal to Launch Video Series Via Hulu, Web and VOD

With pitches slated in next few weeks from digital players like YouTube and AOL, NBCU makes a play to keep digital ad dollars from migrating to rivals

David O'Connell

NBCUniversal is best known for the hundreds of TV shows it airs on its broadcast and cable outlets. Now the company is taking a stab at programming that debuts in digital fashion.

The company is set to launch more than dozen video series that will appear first via digital venues including including channel websites, Hulu and video-on-demand. Even though the series aren’t slated at present to air in linear fashion on, say, an NBC or a Syfy, promos will appear during various programs on the NBCU TV networks that promote the digital series. NBCU also wants to match advertisers with the various series.

“The combination of digital video alongside television content is extremely powerful and becoming an increasingly important part of the connection advertisers make with consumers,” said Linda Yaccarino, president of ad sales for NBCUniversal, in a statement. “We want to offer our partners the unique ability to harness the power of our creative assets along with our distribution capabilities including the video-on-demand platform like no other company can do.”

The big TV companies have dabbled in this area before. Before the 2008-09 TV season, NBCUniversal launched two Web-based series, “Gemini Division” and “Woke Up Dead.” The first blended animation and live action, and was set five minutes in the future. Ad giant Omnicom took part as well. The second centered on a student who came down with zombie-like symptoms. About the same time, Walt Disney’s ABC formed Stage 9 Digital Media, which launched an online comedy about window washers called “Squeegees.” 

NBCU appears to be betting that consumers’ greater familiarity with online media combined with promotion on its traditional TV networks will lend the video series a boost they might not have received in the past.

Announcement of the new series comes just a few weeks before a passel of digital players, including AOL and YouTube, are slated to hold “newfront” meetings with advertisers that will detail the launch of pieces of entertainment available via streaming video and other digital venues. The hope, of course, is to steal some of the dollars normally earmarked for big media companies like NBCU during the upfront market, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad time for the coming season.

Among the series slated to come from Universal Cable Productions are “Tesla and Twain” and “Last Single Girl.” UCP is also developing additional original series in collaboration with ad agency 72andSunny, which is based in Los Angeles and has done work for Samsung, among other advertisers.

 “Tesla and Twain” is a comedic series loosely based on the real friendship between author Mark Twain and inventor Nikola Tesla, if they were suddenly transported to modern-day Los Angeles.  “Last Single Girl” tells the story of a single, overeducated and underemployed young woman who is coming to terms with being a grown-up while all her best friends are getting married.

 The first series from Universal Television to launch on NBC.com will be “Saturday Night Line,” in conjunction with Broadway Video’s Above Average Productions, and a “Heroes Reborn: Digital Series” from executive producer Tim Kring’s Tailwind Productions. “Saturday Night Line” is a socially interactive digital series featuring super fans who wait in the “Saturday Night Live” standby line outside NBCU’s 30 Rock headquarters, while “Heroes Reborn: Digital Series” is the online prequel to the previously announced “Heroes” miniseries slated to run on NBC in 2015.