PHILADELPHIA — One of this spring’s most anticipated TV shows isn’t actually on TV.
It’s on Netflix.
“Hemlock Grove,” a creepy werewolf thriller directed by horror maestro Eli Roth, will premiere April 19 on the subscription video-streaming site.
It’s part of a new wave of sophisticated, polished online scripted shows that — finally — have propelled online video into the big leagues.
With backing from major studios and creative spark from Hollywood A-listers including Tom Hanks and Jerry Seinfeld, online platforms including Yahoo! Screen, AOL On, YouTube, Hulu and Crackle are pushing into territory once reserved for traditional TV: long-form, scripted programming.
Online platforms are now targeting the most traditional and loyal TV viewers: soap opera fans.
Next month will bring the premiere of an online-only version of two of TV’s most popular soaps, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” which ABC canceled last year. The Web soaps will feature the same casts and story lines as the TV versions. They’ll premiere April 29 and run in 30-minute episodes.
“The word TV is no longer about a device anymore,” said Andy Forssell senior vice president of content for Hulu, which plans to release four original shows this year, including “The Awesomes,” an animated superhero spoof created by “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers.
“What matters to viewers now, especially the millennials, is quality. ... And it doesn’t matter if you see it on the TV, xBox, tablet or smartphone.”
When it comes to HBO-level quality, Netflix quickly established itself as leader of the pack, announcing a slate of five shows last year, beginning with “Lilyhammer,” a mob satire starring Steven Van Zandt as a New York mobster who moves to rural Norway.
Netflix won’t say how much it’s investing, but its second show, David Fincher’s 13-episode political thriller, “House of Cards,” posted last month, reportedly had a budget topping $100 million. What’s more, each episode was a full 55 to 60 minutes.
“House of Cards” flouted two rules of online programming: Keep it cheap and keep it short. It was a game-changer, says Larry Tanz, chief executive of Vuguru, a production company founded by Michael Eisner for Web-exclusive programming.
“Traditional TV critics paid attention” with glowing reviews, Tanz said, adding that mainstream publications had generally ignored online shows. “This year, you’ll see a real ramp-up of budgets and much more long-form programming and of shows that people will acknowledge as real hits.”
We’ve come a long way since the days when online video was limited to 90-second clips of cats on skateboards or that creepy CGI dancing baby.
“The quality of programming online has increased so dramatically in just the past three years that it is indistinguishable from much of network TV,” said Drew Baldwin, one of the founders of TubeFilter.com a newsmagazine about online video.
“The industry has matured significantly and rapidly,” spurred on by the increasing sophistication of smartphones, tablets and WiFi connectivity, he said.
The audience base is growing exponentially. Online video providers “are reaching billions of people — that’s billions with a B — every single month,” Baldwin said. “Now that’s impressive.”
Viewers around the world watch nearly four billion hours of YouTube a month, its owner, Google, recently announced.
As of December, AOL’s video platform, AOL On Network, had 53 million unique visitors per month. Hulu’s new service, Hulu Plus, had more than three million subscribers by the end of 2012, twice as many as a year earlier, the company said, boosting annual revenue 65 percent.
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