Hulu and the Star-Making Future of Radio


I have glimpsed the future of radio and it is Hulu.

Let me explain.

Once upon a time, Hulu was that slick online platform that provided a quality viewing experience for gobs of top quality, professionally produced TV content, including a deep archive of favorite shows from days gone by.

Well it’s still that, of course. But suddenly it’s so much more – as¬†Brian Stelter reported on CNN following a tour of Hulu with¬†Charlotte Koh, the head of development for Hulu Originals.

That’s right, I said Hulu Originals.

Just as Netflix is transforming from a utility that provides access to everybody else’s content to one which also proudly trumpets some of its own, Hulu is charging down the same path in a direction I have referred to as “unique and compelling content.”

Just watch this report from CNN (or click here if you can’t see the video):

Why is Hulu dabbling in risky and expensive “originals”?

Because the alternative is to be an undifferentiated utility subject to the whims of the content owners, that’s why.

HBO became famous when it punctuated its steady stream of familiar big screen flicks with an original: The Sopranos.

AMC became famous when it paused its endless string of decades-old movies long enough to score with Mad Men.

Netflix became famous when you could not only download movies and TV shows you’ve seen before, but you could also download ones you haven’t, like House of Cards.

As Koh explained the transition:

…Part of it was the differentiation strategy, and part of it is also moving from being a pipe that carries other people’s stuff, to a service that has a personality and more of a personal relationship with our end-user. I think that’s an important evolution for us as a company.

There are three pieces to this puzzle:

First, the scale to reach and be used by a very large number of consumers.

Second, the familiar content that the mainstream audience knows and loves.

Third – and this is where the differentiation comes in – the original “unique and compelling” content. The “secret sauce” that takes these brands to the next level and gives them a value proposition bigger than that of a utility or an archive. It becomes a destination for fans of that original content.

So here’s my message to the radio industry:

Dear Radio: You guys get the first and second pieces to the puzzle. But too many of you are woefully deficient on the third. Yet it is your extensive reach and the comforting context of all your familiar content which provides the fertile soil for you to create extraordinary new content – if only you make it a priority and prepare to take some chances.

Don’t be so comfortable as that “pipe that carries other people’s stuff.” You need stars – now more than ever. This is not optional.

Stars don’t make scale, scale makes stars – Did Ryan Seacrest make KIIS FM or American Idol? Or did KIIS FM and American Idol make Ryan Seacrest?

Nurture and make stars.

Assuming your brand wants a future.

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  • Jeff Schmidt

    There’s a big difference between “knowing” the truth of what you say, Mark – and “realizing” it. I had just such an experience recently.

    After years of being inactive – I turned the SiriusXM Radio in my car back on.

    I ended up on Howard and found myself riveted by an hour long conversation with Steve Carrell.

    It wasn’t long before I realized it was Howard that made the 1 hour seem to fly by. I don’t think I could listen to a 5 minute interview with Steve Carrell in any of today’s radio talent’s hands. But there I was – 40 minutes in and not wanting to leave the car.

    This happened again and again with other guests I never thought would be interesting. Again – Howard made the difference.

    Then the real shocker.

    I tuned over to the other Howard Channel where they replay all the old Stern shows.

    I found myself listening to a 13 year old Stern segment with LT talking about golfing with OJ. Seriously – OJ material! Dated right?

    It was more entertaining than anything else I could’ve been listening to on the radio at that moment. And that made me a little sad for our business.

  • Mark Ramsey

    I would like to view your comment as more of a challenge to radio talent than a dismissal of it, Jeff.
    And it’s a challenge that radio had better awaken to.

    Thanks for the note.

  • Jeff Schmidt

    I won’t dismiss them either, Mark. But Howard has been off TR since 2006. How much more time do they need?

  • Mark Ramsey

    How long is infinity? :-)