Hulu Enters Branded Entertainment Space With 'Exposure' Competition Series (Exclusive)

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The new photography-themed show will see contestants use Samsung cameras and serve as a guide for future branded content.

Hulu's upcoming reality competition series Exposure sees up-and-coming photographers participating in weekly challenges that put their skills to the test, with the winner being crowned the next great photographer.

But it is also the first of what Hulu hopes will be many branded entertainment collaborations, in which marketers are involved in the creation and execution of the programs themselves.

In the case of Exposure, which debuts April 26 on the streaming platform, the competitors use the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G camera in the challenges. That's because Samsung, in partnership with BBH Entertainment (the development arm of the global ad agency BBH), created the series, with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Media producing it.

"There is a longstanding question about the ‘future’ of branded entertainment, but that future is here with most brands already having a substantive share of voice. Brands must be creating entertainment, not just content, that highlights diversity, inclusivity and supports culture, and do so where it counts, on the most widely watched marketing stage of the 21st century — Streaming TV,” Liz Levy, Hulu's vp branded entertainment, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “At Hulu, we recognize that it is imperative for publishers and brand partners to work together to redefine how we reach audiences.”

With ads often skippable or in some cases missing altogether on different streaming services, there is a push to integrate brands more closely into content. While sponsors have always found ways to feature their brands in TV shows (a classic example is Bravo's long-running food competition Top Chef, where "cheftestants" shop at Whole Foods and sometimes cook with brand-name ingredients), Exposure is different in that Samsung helped craft the show from the beginning to highlight its cameras.

"Our goal in creating the show is to take an innovative, engaging and much more compelling approach to communicating our camera technology and we’re excited to see how creators will use the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G in new and interesting ways," says Janet Lee, vp mobile marketing for Samsung. "We hope Exposure inspires viewers to try something new with the camera they have in their pocket.”

Branded entertainment is a space where the ad and the content blend together in a way that hopefully makes viewers and brands comfortable. And it's a burgeoning space, with Roku announcing plans to launch a branded studio in March and HBO Max exploring more "elegant" advertising solutions as it preps its ad-supported tier for June.

For Hulu and its partners, it is also a first step in what will likely become a more popular genre of programming, with Westbrook Media president Brad Haugen saying the company is "excited to use this opportunity to build a framework for the kinds of programs we can create in the future."

And at its core, the goal with Exposure and all branded entertainment programming is to create shows that stand up on their own merits, making viewers want to watch in the first place.

"We know the Hulu audience will be floored by the photography the artists created, and that they will be able to take away tips and tricks for their own photography journeys,” says William Swann, the head of entertainment for BBH LA.