Upfronts / Newfronts

Hulu Touts New Shows, 4 Million Subscribers

Ambitious Schedule of New Original Series

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Hulu showed off an ambitious schedule of original shows and some metrics to show it can compete in a world of increasingly powerful distributors like Netflix and Amazon at its NewFront Tuesday in New York.

Eva Longoria as Rudy Wilson in
Eva Longoria as Rudy Wilson in "Mother Up!"

The stats: Earlier this year, then-CEO Jason Kilar said Hulu's revenue for 2012 would come in close to $700 million. He was close: the final figure was $695 million, Hulu said. Perhaps more importantly, the company's second business model beyond advertising -- subscriptions -- is still growing. Hulu Plus now has 4 million subscribers paying $8 a month, up from 2 million subscribers this time last year.

The first quarter is usually a big one for new Hulu Plus subscriptions as all the connected TVs, Xboxes, Rokus, Apple TVs and other devices purchased over the holidays get plugged in. This year it was also a big quarter for streaming volume: the company said it passed a billion streams in a quarter for the first time.

"When we started Hulu was only available on computers; now we're on 350 million connected devices," said interim CEO Andy Forssell.

Unlike Yahoo, AOL and other web programmers, Hulu is is primarily a TV catch-up service, and its original shows are intended to look and feel like the TV series that surround them. "That's the bar we hold ourselves to," Mr. Forssell said. Hulu is spending into the six figures per episode for "exclusives" like the Eva Longoria animated series "Mother Up!" with the idea that it will recoup its costs via advertising, new subscriptions and selling the shows into syndication and video on demand systems after a "broadcast" window on Hulu.

Hulu announced 11 new original shows, including the animated series "The Awesomes" with Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers; "Quick Draw," a half-hour comedic Western; the high school drama "East Los High" and several others.

Hulu has already introduced two half-hour versions of storied soaps that no longer air on TV: "All My Children" and "One Life to Live." As Mr. Forssell told us at the recent Ad Age Digital Conference, the company is using viewing data to help determine what types of programming to invest in and how much to spend on it.

Among this week's NewFronts, Hulu's is most TV-like, but that puts Hulu in competition with very well-funded, more established rivals -- and it is unclear how much its owners want the service to spend to compete in that arena. So while Hulu touts its immediate future to advertisers, its long-term future is being hashed out at the board level among its joint-venture owners, Disney, News Corp. and Comcast.

Hulu has been on and off the block for years. Once valued at a billion, former News Corp. COO Peter Chernin is reported to have bid $500 million for the company.