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Hulu, Roku, YouTube Execs Talk Importance of Curating Streaming Content

With peak TV hovering at almost 500 scripted shows alone, for many content providers the question is not how to break through that glut with a standout original of their own but instead how to make sure the audience can find the content they will connect with on their specific platforms.

“Roku has over 5000 channels,” Rob Holmes, head of programming for the OTT service, said at the ATX Television Festival Thursday. “Our purpose was really to make it easy to find free stuff. …We worked with a variety of partners to make…sort of an end-cap, like you’d find in a supermarket. [The free content] is curated into this experience that’s front and center on the platform.”

Holmes acknowledged that as the landscape changes, there is an “increasing challenge to highlight the great stuff that’s there.”

“We’re going to leave the super high quality, must have, must pay [programs] to the others who are doing it very well,” Holmes said of Roku’s content plans.

For some, attracting an audience without focusing on originals is also about the sheer diversity of offerings.

“We set out to basically reinvent television. We were the first channel to present multi-channel television [online],” Dwayne Benefield, head of Playstation Vue, said, adding that the reason they have been able to have the high ratings they have is because they are doing something digitally that other streaming services are not yet.

Vue also uses “channels” as a way to further curate its content and help users navigate the large amount of choices they have, which Benefield acknowledges could go away in the future but for now has helped the audience narrow those choices down.

While originals are an important side to Hulu’s business, the acquisitions are key, too. Curating content for which the audience is clamoring is key there, and series such as “Golden Girls,” “Boy Meets World” and “ER” have been proven performers in getting viewers staying on the platform for days at a time. “ER,” for example, attracted more than 35,000 bingewatchers who watched every single episode within the first two months it was available on the service.

“We look for those shows that are sort of the comfort food to blend in with [originals like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’s’] intensity,” said Lisa Holme, vice president of content acquisitions at Hulu.

Hulu also expanded into the live television experience to provide consumers who cut the traditional cable cord a chance to watch series when they air in a more traditional time period.

But whether or not it will expand into hosting or creating live events the way YouTube has, Holme says it’s about, “What’s the right content that matches the right business model that hopefully matches the delightful consumer experience?” So while there are no solid plans to expand in that way today, “[it] could come some time,” she said.

As the success of series such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” proved for Hulu, the evolving landscape does often require the creation of original series to push streaming services forward in a bigger way.

YouTube Red also saw success with “Cobra Kai” last month and certainly hopes to continue it with series such as “Impulse” and “Origin.” The service, which is rebranding to YouTube Premium, gets a lot of pitches for high school set series as well as tech-based shows, said head of scripted drama Jon Wax. But that’s not all they want to be.

“On the drama side, we’re definitely looking for some more premium content that could compete with our brethren…but with probably a slightly younger bent for our audience,” he said.

Both Hulu and YouTube are open to acquiring series that started their lives on other networks. But both Holme and Wax said that the decision over whether or not to “save” someone else’s original comes down to if the “economics of the show and the size of the audience” match.

“The reality is that often when a show has declined over time and lost some of the audience over time and the network decides not to continue with it, that was the right decision,” Holme said.

The production of new streaming originals, whether traditional TV-length or shorter form experiments with run times, is not slowing down anyway. The trick for those who are on the production side, Peter Girardi, executive vice president for Warner Bros.’ Blue Ribbon Content, pointed out, is flexibility.

Blue Ribbon Content is “not an incubator,” Girardi added, noting “between Warner Bros. Television, Warner-Horizon, Telepictures. I’m not going to be a little scrappy guy that spends a third and [can compete]. That’s not going to happen.”

Instead, the focus is on content that is for the consumer that naturally lives online. This means attracting “younger talent [that] comes into the studio and tries to get overalls,” as well as “experimenting” with formats, he continued.

What is most important to come next, Holmes said, though, is that since “all TV will be streamed…how do we make it available to everybody?”

Beyond the need for user-friendly interfaces and further curation of the content being offered, it’s also about making the evolving technology accessible and, equally importantly, known as a viable option in the marketplace.

(Pictured: Dwayne Benefield, head of Playstation Vue)

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