Hulu Executive Talks Original Programming, New CEO and Online Viewing Habits (Q&A)

Charlotte Koh Hulu Headshot - P 2014
Courtesy of Hulu

Charlotte Koh Hulu Headshot - P 2014

"We want to really cement our reputation in the space as making innovative original programming," Charlotte Koh tells THR of the company's long-term content strategy.

Hulu might have a new face running the show, but many familiar faces will be returning to its slate of original programming this year.

The streaming service’s lineup of shows includes new seasons of some of its most popular original programming. Among the shows renewed for a second season are Seth Meyers’ animated superhero series The Awesomes and Chris O’Dowd’s semi-autobiographical comedy Moone Boy.

Hulu is also introducing four new series to its audience this year. Among them are Deadbeat, a supernatural comedy co-produced with Lionsgate Television, and reality TV satire The Hotwives of Orlando.

STORY: Hulu Announces Original Programming Slate

Charlotte Koh, head of development for Hulu Originals, said the streaming service is looking to develop shows that offer fresh takes on staid genres.

But Hulu’s programming ambitions have been overshadowed by uncertainty about its future. Longtime chief executive Jason Kilar announced his resignation in January of last year. Not long after, Hulu’s owners -- 20th Century Fox, Disney and silent partner NBCUniversal -- contemplated a sale. They ultimately called off the deal and invested $750 million into the service.

In October the company named Fox executive Mike Hopkins its chief executive, replacing interim CEO Andy Forssell.

This is the first slate of original shows introduced under Hopkins’ leadership. Koh said he brings “a great vision and ambition” to the company’s programming plans.

She spoke with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Hulu’s original programming announcement to discuss the company’s content strategy, its new leadership and the shows she’s most excited to watch this year.

STORY: Hulu Expects $1 Billion in Revenue in 2013

What’s the difference between the shows that Hulu decides to develop internally versus the series it will acquire? 

It’s a very symbiotic relationship. We primarily make stuff for the audiences that we feel have critical mass on Hulu. We buy things that are experiments to attract new audience members to the service.

How much does viewership data factor into your development process?

It is a factor, but it’s weighed against more qualitative judgment calls. One of the ambitions that we have for our originals is to make sure they have a truly distinctive point of view. We look less at what’s worked before and more at what will work going forward. How will this project look fresh and new?

How was programming strategy affected by Mike Hopkins’ appointment to CEO?

It’s been great having Mike here. It’s part of our natural evolution of growing the scale of our business. He has a great vision and ambition for us to continue to make leaps forward in terms of the kinds of production that we’re able to do. The hope is to do a one-hour show in the next 18 months. We want to really cement our reputation in the space as making innovative original programming.

Why has Hulu previously focused more on half-hour comedies?

I think for the acquisitions we have already made the move aggressively into doing one hours with shows like Misfits, Line of Duty and Prisoners of War. With in-house production, part of it has been that we’re a young business. I always say that the originals are the startup within the startup. From a purely financial risk perspective, it made sense to do half-hours. Half-hours also do really well on Hulu. We now feel ready to make a leap into the right one-hour piece. We’re looking for something that’s a little bit different. It’s going to feel fresh and distinctive.

You’ve got several returning shows. How important are those shows to your slate or original programming?

One of the beauties of being an on-demand service is that when you have new seasons of a show it tends to refresh old seasons. When we evaluate projects we think about longevity. The longer a show runs, the more you have the opportunity to continue to introduce more and more people to the service.

Will you adjust how you release shows based on what you’ve learned about viewing habits?

That’s been a big part of our evolution. We’ve been experimenting with how to release different shows. The Wrong Mans season is highly serialized and it really rewards you for watching the show in one sitting. But we want to be cognizant of our subscribers. We released them all on Hulu Plus, but we only released the first two episodes on Hulu and rolled out one episode a week after. It acts as a bit of a front porch and an impetus for people to subscribe.  

How has your role changed over the years as more viewers tune into online series?

I think a lot has changed. I’m grateful to all the companies that work in our space because the perception of what happens when something is delivered to you over the Internet has shifted. It is now associated with high-quality, potentially Emmy-winning, shows with an A-list cast. The level of the game has been raised tremendously. When I first started working in the space, a lot of people used the term webisodes and were pitching short-form ideas. Now people don’t see it that way. This is a primary method of delivering content to me in my living room. Online media is finally coming into its own. There’s no stigma attached to it.

What are you looking forward to watching on Hulu this year?

I’m incredibly excited about Moone Boy. It’s a good indication of how we’re trying to reinvent genres. It won an International Emmy. We’re very proud to have it on the site because it’s a great show. I’m also incredibly psyched that we’re doing more of The Awesomes. That’s been one of the most rewarding collaborations because Seth and Mike (Shoemaker) really love the show. They know our role is to help facilitate the best version of the show.