Hulu Hire Points to New Original Series Ambitions

Craig Erwich
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Content chief Craig Erwich could pay $3 million an episode as he tries to catch Netflix and Amazon.

This story first appeared in the April 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Craig Erwich only began his job as Hulu's head of content April 7, but Hollywood already has high hopes the former Warner Horizon chief can boost the online streamer, which has struggled to define itself amid tough digital competition. "It's really significant," says Kevin Beggs, chairman of Lionsgate Television Group. "You don't get a guy like Craig and not pursue a premium original-content strategy."

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The move would come at a pivotal moment for the 7-year-old company, which counts more than 5 million enrollees for its Hulu Plus subscription service (far fewer than Netflix's 31.7 million and Amazon Prime's reported 20 million) and 30 million monthly visitors to its free site. In addition, Xbox and Sony's PlayStation have entered the game with ambitious projects. Hulu owners Fox, Disney and NBCUniversal decided not to sell in summer 2013 and instead invested $750 million and hired a new CEO, Mike Hopkins.

The company has spent the money on lower-budget projects like the dark comedy Deadbeat, a co-production with Lionsgate that premieres April 9, but has yet to stream a breakout like Netflix's House of Cards. Hulu declined comment on its strategy, but sources say the company has told agencies it is willing to pay in the $3 million-an-episode range, in tune with cable dramas. The arrival of Erwich, a Hollywood insider, should aid that search. "Agents will bring him material," says a network source. "You have to have those relationships, and he has them. That's huge."

Hopkins noted in a blog post March 31 that originals will be a strong focus for Erwich, who had a hand in NBC's hit The Voice while at Warner Bros.' lower-cost studio and in 24 and House at Fox. "Craig is the perfect guy for the job -- he has been developing shows and programming networks for over 20 years," he wrote.

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Hulu also is looking to bolster Hulu Plus with exclusive library content. The streamer recently landed SVOD rights for The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and several Bravo and E! series in a deal with NBCU. That followed pacts for CBS' Elementary and ABC's Nashville.

Insiders say Hulu is paying competitive prices for acquired shows and even went after CBS' upcoming Halle Berry series Extant. That project landed at Amazon, but hopes are high that Erwich is the missing link for Hulu. Says Beggs, "People want to work with him."