SXSW 2012: FremantleMedia Strikes International First-Look Deal for Hulu Originals

Morgan Spurlock - portrait - 2010
Matt Carr/Getty Images

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series "A Day In The Life" will be the first Hulu project that Fremantle will take to international markets with a focus on selling the content to traditional media platforms.

NEW YORK - Online video joint venture Hulu has struck an international first-look distribution deal for its original series with FremantleMedia Enterprises and signed deals for more than 30 documentaries that will be exclusive to the site.

The Fremantle arrangement, which the partners say marks the first time that an international distributor has signed such an agreement with an online video service, will allow for content and format distribution deals across all platforms, including traditional media.

"We are not doing this to focus on digital platforms, although series could end up there," including on online video rivals in markets where Hulu has no plans to become a player, Jeff Tahler, Fremantle's senior vp of acquisitions and development, told THR. "We look at Hulu as a content network that creates content that can play on TV," including on free, cable and satellite TV. "It's a sea change now that they start programming at half hours and hours instead of the three, five, seven and nine-minute spurts that have traditionally been done online. This content can sit on any television platform around the world."

Hulu, which has so far only committed to pushing into Japan as far as foreign markets go, echoed that sentiment. "As we expand into original series, we're collaborating with some of the world's greatest independent storytellers to make and distribute great TV," said Andy Forssell, Hulu’s senior vp of content. And the professional content seems ripe to be monetized, he said - a sign that the venture is looking for more revenue opportunities and that the online video space has further matured.

The companies, which are set to unveil their deal at South by Southwest on Monday, said the first Hulu title that Fremantle, part of Bertelsmann's RTL Group, will take to the global market is Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series A Day In The Life. Its second season will premiere later in the day on Hulu and the Hulu Plus subscription service.

David Ellender, global CEO of FremantleMedia Enterprises, said in a statement: “This is a ground-breaking deal, which sets a new precedent for acquiring content that can live on both digital and linear platforms, while identifying opportunities outside of the traditional distribution models."

Tahler said for Fremantle this would be a first step into a new space that he said his firm is open to possibly following up with other digital players down the line. "Hulu is the first in a crop of new content creators," he explained, pointing out that for consumers the difference between digital players and traditional TV networks is blurring. "Hulu and Hulu Plus are accessed like HBO or Showtime on smart TVs," he argued.

The companies didn't disclose much financial detail, but Tahler in general terms said "if we like a Hulu project, we will figure out the advance against foreign sales." He added: "As unconventional as this deal is as traditional a first-look deal it is."

The second season of A Day, which chronicles 24 hours in the lives of well-known personalities, features chef Mario Batali, The Roots drummer and frontman Questlove, comedian Marc Maron, hip-hop duo Das Racist and more. The show last year kicked off Hulu's push into long-form original content.

Hulu recently also launched its first original scripted series, Battleground, a drama with comedic moments set in the world of political campaigns. It also plans a summer launch for Up to Speed, a whimsical travel series by Richard Linklater (Dazed and ConfusedBefore Sunset), starring historian Timothy "Speed" Levitch.

Meanwhile, Hulu said it is also launching more than 30 documentaries that will be exclusive to it in the digital space via deals with filmmakers, Snag Films and others. The documentaries include one of SXSW's official selections, Amir Bar-Lev's music-themed Re:Generation Music Project, and Spurlock's upcoming Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope, a behind-the-scenes look at the annual fanboy gathering. Hulu said the latter will be exclusively digitally distributed on Hulu and Hulu Plus for more than four years.

Hulu, led by CEO Jason Kilar, is a venture of Walt Disney, News Corp., NBCUniversal and Providence Equity Partners.


Twitter: @georgszalai