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Hulu, the US online video service owned by NBC Universal, Fox and Walt Disney, has signed its first batch of content deals with international television producers, the first step towards a full global launch of the service.
The company was set up 18 months ago by the media companies as a viable alternative to YouTube for professionally produced content. But Hulu is still only available in the US although the group said on Wednesday it was in talks to launch the site in eight of the leading broadcast markets.
“We’re having discussions in the top six to eight markets…we’re laying the groundwork,” said Andy Forssell, senior vice president of content acquisition and distribution.
The new content deals will bring a raft of UK programming to the site following agreements struck between Hulu and Endemol, the producer of Big Brother, and Digital Rights Group.
Digital Rights Group will provide full episodes of comedies including Green Wing, Peep Show and Doc Martin. Endemol is initially supplying reality shows, such as Anything for Love and I Want To Be A Hilton.
The site has also struck deals with Saavn, one of the largest distributors of Bollywood movies.
In most cases, the launch of the programmes on Hulu will be the first time they have been seen by a US audience, with the advertising on the site generating a new revenue stream for the producers. “You have these hidden gems [like Green Wing] which the US audience just hasn’t seen before,” said Mr Forssell.
The revenue share model means the producers will avoid the fate of ITV which failed to generate significant online revenue from the phenomenal global interest in Susan Boyle, a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent.
A clip showing Ms Boyle singing in front of Simon Cowell has been viewed more than 100m times on YouTube, with most of those views coming from the US – despite the programme not being broadcast in the country. But because ITV and the site don’t have an advertising agreement the UK broadcaster was unable to capitalise on the clip’s success.
“It was great for ITV to get that notoriety [with 100m views on YouTube] but it was a missed opportunity because it generated no revenue,” said Mr Forssell. Hulu was in conversations with ITV and the BBC about eventually carrying their content on the service, he added.
Hulu bolstered the US content available on its site last week when it struck a deal with Walt Disney which will see the media company become a shareholder in the service alongside Fox, News Corporation and Providence Equity Partners.
The deal, in which Disney provides episodes of Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, will also see several Disney executives, including Bob Iger, chief executive, join the company’s board.