Hulu's summer offerings will include "The Booth at the End,"… (Hulu )
The video service Hulu, which offers television shows online, has secured a pair of British imports and a U.S. series to help propel it through the summer doldrums.
Hulu has emerged as one of the Web's top destinations for watching prime-time television shows, which usually are available 24 hours after airing. But the site suffers from the same seasonality that afflicts the broadcast networks that provide Hulu with such top-rated programs as "Glee," "Modern Family" and "The Voice."
"That's kind of a long-standing tradition in the business — it goes back to when there was incredibly high viewership during other periods of the year," said Steve Ridge, president of media strategy for Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. "The summer months were the outdoor times, and homes using television were down rather dramatically."
Network TV viewership can dip as much as 30% during the summer, according to some estimates. The Fourth of July weekend — which frequently delivers a box-office bonanza for movie studios — conversely produces the lowest overall television usage for any week of the year, according to Nielsen Co.
To inject vitality into its summer offerings, Hulu secured exclusive, first-run U.S. rights to new series that viewers won't find in their cable or satellite programming lineup.
"Misfits," a British comedy series about a group of five young offenders forced to perform community service — and wind up with special powers following a freak electrical storm — premieres June 20. "The Booth at the End," a half-hour series about a mysterious man who sits at a diner and grants people's wishes — for a price, debuts July 11. "Whites," a BBC comedy series set in the kitchen of a British country house, launches July 20.
"The timing worked out nicely for a summer launch," said Andy Forssell, Hulu's senior vice president of content acquisition. "It is a good bit of serendipity, because there's less premium content during the summer. It's certainly a good time for us to be loud and proud about these kinds of titles."
This is the same counter-programming strategy cable programmers have used to launch new series. As the broadcasters lapse into summer reruns and reality shows, the cable networks lure viewers with original offerings, such as this year's newcomers "Louie" on FX or "Teen Wolf" on MTV.
Forssell said he plans to use the site's marketing clout to entice users to sample the new shows, which will be available on the ad-supported Hulu site as well as to subscribers to Hulu Plus. The 3-year-old free service, which is jointly owned by News Corp., NBCUniversal, and Walt Disney Co. and Providence Equity Partners, now attracts about 27 million monthly users, according to measurement firm ComScore Video Metrix.
"I don't think most of the U.S. would list as their No. 1 challenge of the summer to find some British show they've never heard of," Forssell joked. "We're going to help them do that."
Derek Baine, a senior media analyst at researcher SNL Kagan, said BBC series don't always resonate with U.S. audiences — with the notable exceptions of American adaptations of such British shows as "The Office" and "British Idol."
"There just really haven't been a lot of British shows that have taken off here," Baine said. "BBC America has been on for many, many years as a cable network that has gotten not much traction."
Consider the fate of "Skins," the U.S. version of the racy British series that aired on MTV, which was canceled last week after 10 episodes. The series drew protests from the watchdog group Parents Television Council, which dubbed its frank treatment of teen sexuality "kiddie porn."
MTV said "Skins," which has been a global phenomenon, didn't connect with U.S. viewers.