Fox Broadcasting is broadening how online viewers can watch its scripted-drama franchise WIGS, expanding the most popular series "Blue" and others to Hulu, beyond just YouTube.
"Blue" has blown past 20 million views on Google's video site, but expanding the program to a lesser-watched platform suggests YouTube's recent push for premium-style content can be complicated.
Ad-supported Hulu and subscription service Hulu Plus now have the first two seasons of "Blue" available. The show, which stars Julia Stiles as a mom who is also an upscale escort, is in a longer, TV-like format on Hulu, with three or so of the shorter YouTube-size segments edited together into full-length dramas.
Additional WIGS series, which are all about the lives of women, will become available on Hulu and Hulu Plus over the coming weeks.
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, senior vice president of Fox's multiplatform programming, said YouTube's immense platform was a "successful staging ground" for WIGS. Fox started backing the digital channel in February, after WIGS was originally launched by a host of experienced movie and TV writers and actors in May 2011.
The channel rose to be YouTube's most popular for scripted-drama.
Going somewhere smaller to get bigger
WIGS move highlights how the YouTube audience may not be perfectly suited for content that wants to move up the food chain. As Fox takes WIGS further along the path to potentially appearing on its own channels, it's expanding the series to a platform with a fraction of the viewership.
YouTube is second only to Netflix in online video streaming, with Hulu notching a mere 2.4 percent of the market to YouTube's 17.1 percent.
Fox already has a close relationship with Hulu. Parent News Corp. is one of the site's owners, alongside Disney and Comcast, though all three are in the midst of a bidding process to possibly sell the site.
For Fox, the purpose of having WIGS on YouTube first was to incubate a program that it might later move to other platforms and potentially its own linear TV channels. Spreading its wings was a part of the plan all along.
Why Google likes to share and share alike
For Google, "Blue" and other WIGS shows expanding to Hulu raises their profile to YouTube's benefit. Viewers who see "Blue" elsewhere and want more of WIGS will come back to YouTube to get it. The expansion, YouTube would say, confirms the value of its site for premium content, rather than questions it.
"We're happy to see our creators succeeding and building their brands across entertainment platforms," said Alex Carloss, YouTube's global head of entertainment partnerships, in a statement.
YouTube, known for its user-provided video clips, has made a push into original, higher quality content with the launch of a swath of funded channels.
It's also experimented with paid subscriptions for such channels, the latest way YouTube is trying to woo content makers to its platform beyond offering built-in advertising.
Going rogue on exclusivity
YouTube's laissez-faire attitude to popular channels expanding elsewhere is partly explained by Hulu's relatively paltry penetration, but it breaks from the mold of competitors in online streaming, which have generally vied for exclusive windows on content wherever they can.
YouTube says exclusivity doesn't make sense for its platform.
James Dix, an analyst for Wedbush who covers Google, says advertising prices on a program typically are higher the greater the reach of the program, so it makes sense for YouTube get as much distribution as it can. Though a portion of the advertising revenue is lost to Hulu, "if it's reaching a million people versus 100,000 people, in theory that would help YouTube."
But if the program is something that has reached the critical mass to be viable as part subscription service, "then the argument would cut the other way."
"It seems to me as though a lot of the people creating content for YouTube were having trouble with the ad-supported model," he said.
And "Blue" is a program already reaching millions. It has racked up more than 20 million views, with WIGS as a whole topping 43 million views. The high production values, celebrity stars and wide following give it many of the makings for an ideal YouTube subscription channel.
That is, if the whole principle of the program weren't to outgrow YouTube to succeed.