Hulu and Netflix Begin Forays into Original Programming

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It turns out the ongoing Hulu versus Netflix faceoff for streaming domination has just been buffering in preparation for the latest battle. Within one week, both streaming video giants have shed their identities as mere content providers and have taken on new roles as content creators.

On Monday, Hulu launched its original “workplace dramedy” series, Battleground, which will recount the ups, the downs and the undoubtedly wacky-but-still-relatable shenanigans of a campaign team navigating its way through a Wisconsin Senate race. Shot in mock documentary style and peppered with understated quips, Battleground isn’t just competing with Netflix – whose own foray into original programming has also begun – but is also marking Hulu’s first step toward becoming a formidable adversary to network television.

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The very premise of Battleground reeks of an attempt to blend the sardonic wit of The Office, the group dynamics of Parks and Recreation and the topical appeal of The West Wing. In eight weeks, Hulu recorded 13 episodes, which will debut one by one every Tuesday. The show’s executive producer, J.D. Walsh, told CNNMoney that the company skirted the traditional route and shot the whole series as one bulk project, driving down production costs.

Meanwhile, last week Netflix rolled out all eight installments of its original drama Lilyhammer, starring The Sopranos’ Steve Van Zandt. Taking a decidedly different approach than Battleground, the series centers on an ex-mobster who finds himself in the witness protection program in Norway.

Both companies’ stabs at original content have garnered mixed reviews thus far. The Associated Press deems Lilyhammer “about as subtle as ‘Sopranos on Ice!’” but “more intriguing” than the underwhelming Battleground. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, assures us that Battleground is an “entertaining, well-made hybrid.”

Either way, this is likely just the beginning for Hulu and Netflix. Hulu’s senior vice president of content, Andy Forsell, said the company plans to extend Battleground over the next few years, hoping to reach millions of viewers without shelling out too much cash for marketing. Netflix also plans to launch additional series over the next year, including a revival of Arrested Development and a remake of the U.K. drama House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey.

According to Forsell, outlets like Hulu and Netflix have a key advantage. Unlike traditional television networks, they’re not limited by hours and schedules. This lends them the opportunity to roll out however much content they want, at whatever length, and at whatever time of day. Unfortunately, determining just how fruitful these recent ventures will be is going to take some patience — though hopefully not as much as it takes to wait for a movie to buffer.

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