I think they are starting to get it: Netflix is doing House of Cards. Hulu has its own Spurlock-umentary. YouTube is even pitching multi-million dollar original series. Online networks are developing television-style original programming, leveraging their massive audiences to drive viewership and premium ad revenue. Some are playing nice, focusing on content that doesn’t compete with traditional television, while others are clearly throwing down the gauntlet.
And now it’s Yahoo’s turn (again).
In April we reported Yahoo was planning to launch a star-heavy slate of original series, and yesterday Variety‘s Andrew Wallenstein reported Morgan Spurlock, Niecy Nash, and Judy Greer will be among the celebrities that will be featured in eight short-form Yahoo original series rolling out in October. Three of the shows are from Electus, run by NBC’s former Co-Chairman Ben Silverman, and one is from Vin Di Bona’s FishBowl Worldwide Media.
Regardless of their star power and production pedigree, those shows should have little trouble finding an audience. Yahoo has a massive one. It generated 47.3 million video streams in July, with original series earning 27 million. And Yahoo can leverage that audience, too. Last March, Yahoo’s most popular original series, Primetime in No Time, broke 500 million streams.
Last December, Yahoo dropped UGC video from its site, focusing solely on original programming, but if Yahoo is trying to get a taste of TV’s $85 billion advertising business, the company’s still doing so cautiously. Although the new slate is moving away from heavily branded series like Purina Animal All Stars, Yahoo’s programming lineup is all reality shows—it’s not yet taking any risks on original scripted series.
According to Yahoo’s Head of Video Erin McPherson, however, the October slate is just the beginning; 2012 will see bigger stars and longer formats—possibly even scripted series. But by that time, Yahoo may have some even heavier competition.
As panelist Jason Calanis predicted at our last Tubefilter Hollywood Meetup Beyond YouTube, “What’s going to happen in the future is YouTube and Google have realized they’ve paid a couple billion dollars for this asset, and as great as talking fruit and squeaky-voiced teenagers are, it’s not going to pay the bills.” As a result, Calacanis predicted, “they are going to redesign YouTube over the next two years into a more channel structure. So when you go there it won’t be just about who has the largest subscriber base—they should and will still respect those creators and give them their audience—but they are going to blend it to more of a television-like experience.”
Some time in the not too distant future, a showdown has been scheduled. How will Yahoo and YouTube take on each other while also taking on TV? We’ll have to wait and see.