The deal marks the first SVOD licensing pact for the series that ranked as primetime’s most-watched drama during the first seven years of its run. Episodes from 14 seasons will be available on Hulu Plus as an SVOD exclusive starting in early April.
The deal calls for Hulu to carry future seasons of the show, adding episodes after each season wraps on CBS. There has been speculation that the current 15th season may be the last for the series that launched the global franchise revolving around the work of criminal forensic investigators. The third and latest spinoff of the “CSI” mothership, “CSI: Cyber,” is set to debut March 4 on CBS.
Financial details were not disclosed, but with more than 300 episodes in the can already, Hulu is undoubtedly making a huge financial commitment to the series. Industry sources pegged the price tag as in the mid-six figure range per hour over the life of the multi-year deal. The high end of the SVOD market was set recently by blockbuster sales of Warner Bros. TV’s Fox drama “Gotham” and Sony Pictures TV’s NBC drama “The Blacklist” in the $1.8 million-per-hour territory.
Hulu’s deal, conservatively valued at more than $120 million, is not without risk, because “CSI’s” close-ended storytelling format is very different from the serialized shows that have fueled the popularity of binge-viewing via digital platforms.
“ ‘CSI’ is one of the most popular television franchises in the world, and we could not be more thrilled make all episodes available on Hulu,” said Craig Erwich, Hulu’s senior VP and head of content. “This deal not only represents a huge growth in our offering of premium content, but it also represents an expansion in our partnership with CBS.”
“CSI” reruns have never been available on SVOD, but episodes of “CSI: Miami” previously were available on Netflix as part of a larger deal for CBS programming struck when the netcaster was hungry for content for its then-fledgling streaming service. At the time, “CSI: Miami” had just wrapped its 10-season run on CBS.
The “CSI” deal with Hulu is notable in that the show is still current on CBS. The Eye has still been conservative about licensing active series, though it has done so with “The Good Wife” and “Elementary” in combo deals with Amazon Prime and Hulu.
All told, Hulu has licensed more than 5,300 episodes of library programming from CBS since last year — evidence of how significantly the rise of digital streaming services has plumped up CBS’ bottom line with what amounts to found money in many cases for vintage series.
“CSI” reruns have previously aired on cable in off-network deals with Spike TV and USA Network. The show, which was a sleeper hit in its fall 2000 debut, has been a solid if not spectacular performer in its off-network run. Like any long-running series, “CSI” has seen its share of cast changes over the years after starting out with William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger in the lead roles now limned by Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue.
Scott Koondel, chief corporate content licensing officer for CBS Corp., said he’s confident that the opening of the “CSI” vault will be a draw for Hulu. CBS still has the right to offer current-season episodes of the show on its CBS.com website. And the library will also be available in its entirety on CBS’ fledgling SVOD service, CBS All Access.
“This agreement and previous deals with our partners at Hulu further validates how well CBS procedural dramas perform on subscription services,” Koondel said. “At a time when the CBS Television Network is getting ready to premiere the next generation of the ‘CSI’ franchise with ‘CSI: Cyber,’ it’s very exciting to make available all 14 seasons of the show that started it all to Hulu subscribers and ‘CSI’s’ passionate fanbase.”