Both YouTube and its chief rival Hulu, the relative newcomer in the streaming content domain owned by NBC Universal and News Corp, have made moves towards being go-to destinations for finding full-length docs and factual programming online.
In March, Hulu launched a documentary section for its users; fitting, considering that the first free feature it streamed was David Modigliani’s film Crawford, a documentary about the small Texan town that now claims George W. Bush as one of its citizens. Andy Forssell, SVP of content and distribution for Hulu, says that Hulu offered the film a profound opportunity to reach out to wider audiences, and looks forward to doing the same for other projects.
‘We [love] when a film goes particularly viral and people tell their friends about it,’ says Forssell. ‘We spent a lot of money and time building tools to make that really easy, so that people who are passionate about content can spread it and help build the audience themselves.’
Partners for the doc channel include SnagFilms, National Geographic, PBS and short-form documentary initiative Cinelan. Hulu has also just struck deals with Endemol and Digital Rights Group, which will provide a selection of UK and international programming, indicative of its move towards opening up its streaming content to an international audience. Endemol content will include assorted reality fare such as Anything for Love.
In April, YouTube unveiled its ‘Shows’ tab, where an assortment of docs can be found, including Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (also available on Hulu), Werner Herzog’s My Best Fiend, and Dan Cox’s Running With Arnold. Some of the factual shows available include episodes of ‘NOVA,’ Dirty Jobs, Jon & Kate Plus 8, and LA Ink. Various partners working with YouTube include big names like MGM, Lionsgate Films, PBS, Sony Pictures, CBS Corp., Discovery, National Geographic, The Documentary Channel, Mondo Media and the BBC, as well as independent partners like SnagFilms, firstlookstudios and IndieFlix.
YouTube strategic partner manager Graham Bennett explains that the inclusion of docs and other factual entertainment is part of the site’s mission to be ‘a broad church.’ While he says it’s somewhat necessary to separate long-form material from the rest of YouTube’s content, he dismissed the idea that docs should be similarly grouped to the exclusion of non-factual content.
‘If you had posted Super Size Me as a video to a channel … would it have had the traction and appeal [that it had] in the movie section? I don’t think so,’ he said.
By contrast, Forssell says he is comfortable gathering audiences that are attracted specifically to docs, explaining that Hulu can aggregate those audiences into marketable demographics that are just as valuable to advertisers as larger audiences.
‘You show [non-fiction] that has a small audience, but they are passionate about it and they match a certain demographic,’ says Forssell. ‘They [may] make $200,000 a year and love Cuban cigars. The audience size is less important than who they are and how they help us deliver to advertisers the people they want.’