By Liz Shannon Miller
What happens when you’re one of the world’s most powerful and popular web video companies? You aren’t necessarily afraid of sharing your toys.
This sort of deal isn’t too surprising (Hulu has picked up content originally distributed on other sites before, such as the award-winning branded series “Leap Year”) until you remember one key fact: WIGS was made with YouTube’s money.
Created by Hollywood veterans Rodrigo Garcia and Jon Avnet, WIGS was a beneficiary of two rounds of funding from YouTube’s original content initiative, and has been one of the more successful channels to result from that network.
However, according to Avnet in a phone interview, when it came to the Hulu deal, they were able to get YouTube on board. “YouTube, which has been our home, has allowed us to do this — they changed their policies,” he said.
“We have a great relationship, and have been treated unbelievably well,” Avnet said. “When I first talked to [YouTube] about it, [they] kept reiterating that they want to see the content out there.”
“I was a little surprised — people get proprietary,” he added. “I was wondering, why would they do that? But I think they have confidence in the platform,” he said.
It also helps that the shows moving to Hulu have already been very successful on YouTube (and so far still seem to be available on the WIGS channel, as well as its off-YouTube site, if you prefer to watch it there). “’Blue’ is the most viewed dramatic scripted series ever on YouTube,” Avnet said. “What does that mean in traditional media? Who knows, but it’s very exciting.”
The shows that run on the WIGS channel, featuring well-known female stars like Jennifer Beals, America Ferrera, and Anna Paquin, tend to bridge the gap between serialized and long-form content. While each is broken into quickly-consumed 10-minute-or-less chunks, they work well when binge-viewed.
It’s not hard to imagine many WIGS series as feature-length films, which makes them a strong fit for the Hulu audience. Perhaps even a stronger fit than YouTube, given how hard drama content struggles to find an audience on the platform — though the WIGS channel arguably doesn’t have that problem: It currently boasts over 200,000 subscribers and 45 million views.
And, in fact, that’s proven to be the case. While no specific analytics were available, according to Avnet, Blue has been one of the 10 most-watched shows on Hulu.
Beyond distribution deals, WIGS has benefitted from a deal made last February with Fox Broadcasting Company, which came on board as the channel’s marketing partner. This has lead to something relatively rare for web content: Ad pushes on other platforms, including movie theater pre-shows and broadcast television (ads aired during Fox primetime series including “Touch,” “The Following,” and “COPS”). “We’re the first new media platform that’s had old media advertising on our assets,” Avnet said.
What do these deals mean for WIGS going forward? The future is unwritten, but Avnet was clear that they won’t forget to dance with the one who brung ’em. While “Fox will figure out how they want to do it,” he said, “YouTube is in our future. We see that as a given for us.”
It’s an interesting move for some very interesting programming, but what has Avnet learned from his experience creating digital content? “It better be addictive enough that people will stick with it. It better work,” he said. “Our retention data has been extraordinarily high — that I’ve been told is a very important indicator. We’re using the same way of looking at things as TV or movies. But on the internet, you don’t tune in during the middle of programming.”