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Hulu strikes distribution deal with Fremantle

March 11, 2012 |  9:35 pm

Morgan Spurlock

In deal that validates the quality of some original programming for the Web, Internet video service Hulu reached an international distribution agreement with FremantleMedia Enterprises.

Fremantle -- whose television production unit is best known for "American Idol,"  "America's Got Talent" and "The X Factor" -- signed a first-look deal for rights to distribute Hulu's original shows to global markets.

The first program Fremantle will attempt to sell is documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's acclaimed series, "A Day in the Life." The second season premieres Monday on Hulu and its subscription service, Hulu Plus.

"For us, this isn't about one particular project, it's about getting into business with Hulu around their new content initiative," said Jeff Tahler, Fremantle's senior vice president of acquisitions and development.  "Looking at what they've done ... (and) their original programming efforts, it's similar to any other network or production company."

Hulu stands to benefit from Fremantle's broad reach and access to traditional distributors for television programming.  For the moment, the online service -- which is jointly owned by media giants News Corp. Walt Disney Co. and Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal -- is only available in the United States and Japan.

"That'll expand over time," said Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content. "No matter how aggressive we are, there will be plenty of opportunities to get this content out that we'd be crazy not to look at."

Broader distribution also would provide additional revenue to help underwrite the cost of creating new shows. Hulu and competing subscription services like Netflix Inc. have been launching original programs as a way to differentiate their services.

Netflix's first scripted series, "Lilyhammer," premiered last month.

"The quality [of the originals] has got to be really high because it's sitting next to the best shows on TV last night," Forssell said. "It's a challenge. We're going to be very selective."

Hulu also has secured the rights to exclusively distribute more than 30 documentary films, including Amir Bar-Lev's "Re:Generation Music Project" and Spurlock's upcoming "Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope," a behind-the-scenes look at the thousands of fans who gather each year in San Diego to attend the world's largest comic book convention.

"Documentaries have always done well on our service," Forssell said. "It's a passionate audience. Many of them tend to be tech-forward leaning."


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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Director Morgan Spurlock in "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Credit:  Daniel Marracino / Sony Pictures Classics.