Hulu Unveils Political Campaign Series, Documentary Shows from Spurlock and Linklater

Like Netflix and YouTube, the video site is making a big play in original content

For the first time in its history, Hulu took the stage at the Television Critics’ Association on Sunday to unveil a slate of programming designed to make it a bona fide content maker.

It may be best known as a one-stop shop for last night’s  episodes of hit shows like “Modern Family” or  “The Daily Show,” but that could soon change. Like Netflix and YouTube, Hulu is betting on original content by partnering with such prominent filmmakers as Morgan Spurlock (”Super Size Me”) and Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”).

The three shows include a scripted series about the inner-workings of a senatorial campaign; a documentary series about high-profile musicians, actors and UFC fighters; and a travel show.

“This is just the start of what we want to do with original series,”  Andy Forssell, Hulu’s senior vice president of content, told TheWrap. “We’ve done a great job of offering broadcast content that people love, not just like. At the same time we’ve built relationships with guys like Morgan and Richard, and we hear about their ideas, and occasionally those ideas create a spark.”

Also read: Michael Hirschorn on YouTube's Content Gamble: 'The Walls Between TV and the Internet Are Collapsing'

It is the latest sign that  new media players are beginning to view themselves as more than just streaming platforms. Netflix is partnering with Kevin Spacey on its upcoming “House of Cards” series and will offer new episodes of “Arrested Development.” Last fall, YouTube announced a series of high-profile creative partners including Jay-Z and  Amy Poehler that will help the streaming site create 100 channels of original, professional content.

Hulu already dipped its toe into the content waters with Spurlock’s “A Day in the Life,” and it plans to kick off a second season of the show in March. For season two, Spurlock set out to capture  the daily routines of highly motivated individuals as they follow their passions, including actor Joel McHale, comedian Marc Maron and UFC fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller.

Taking a page from "The Office," Hulu’s first original scripted series, "Battleground," will bring the faux-documentary style into the world of political campaigns. "Battleground" centers on a group of campaign workers and volunteers for a distant third-place candidate.    

"Battleground" premieres Tuesday, February 14. Barring a Mitt Romney coronation, that will place it in the heart of the GOP primary season.

The third series that Hulu unveiled, "Up to Speed," is a collaboration with Linklater. Each week, the director follows host, philosopher and tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch (“The Cruise”), as he criss-crosses the country in search of historic spots and beautiful destinations.

The shows will be co-owned with the creators and revenue will be shared, although it’s still not entirely clear how a series' relative popularity will be determined and how Hulu will monetize the content beyond ad sales.

“There’s no obvious analogy to Nielsen [ratings], so we will determine success on a title by title basis,” Forssell told TheWrap. “We have great data on who uses our service, so we can project an audience from there and scale the budget of a production to meet that demand. “

Forssell told TheWrap that he believes that by partnering with a cadre of high-end filmmakers, Hulu will help make people abandon their prejudices about web shows.

“I think it will go away, but not because more and more people are watching shows online,” Forssell said. “I think it will go away because what people are producing for alternative means of distribution are quality programs. I loathe the term and have never once used the term 'digital content,' because that has been an excuse for quality, and an excuse to apply a different standard than for what’s on TV tonight.”

“I think companies like Hulu are well funded enough to do great things,” he added.  

Watch the trailer for "Battleground":

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